". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


‘There Is Hope’: D-Day Veteran Clings to Faith 80 Years after Normandy Landing

June 7, 2024

He was only 19 when he stepped foot on Omaha Beach. After a terrifying night on a ship in the English Channel wondering what his fate would be, Fred Lunsford came ashore just as daylight dawned. The scene before him was an absolute horror. All across the sand “there were dead bodies scattered…” he remembered. It was June 7, the morning after the first wave. Of the 13,000 men on his ship, almost half were killed in the invasion that he survived 80 years ago this week.

As the sun broke, he hurried down the rope ladder of his ship into a landing craft. It “ran right up on the sand,” and the men “all got our packs on our backs, rifle strapped … and waded in the water about knee-deep for a period.” Looking out over the beach for the first time, he was stunned.

“[There was] blood-stained sand,” he remembers. “I walked through blood, walked over bodies.” That was the terrifying thing, Fred says. When they made their way to the incline where Nazis were picking off the allies left and right, he started to climb “that steep bluff at the edge of the beach,” Fred told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Thursday’s “Washington Watch.” “A bullet hit my friend that was walking one step behind me,” the 99-year-old veteran said, “… he fell flat on his face, dead as a doornail.” Looking back, Lunsford says, “I’m of the opinion that that bullet was intended for me, because it was just inches behind the back of my head. … [B]ut God spared me and rolled me back. And I never, never dreamed I would be living 99 years.”

It wasn’t the first time Fred experienced divine providence in the war. Desperate for typists, the Army sent Lunsford to England to help with the war effort. “That opportunity delayed him from participating in the first day of the Normandy invasion,” the North Carolina Baptist’s Lizzie Haseltine wrote. “It very well might have saved his life. “

Lunsford thinks back to that harrowing day and admits, “I never wanted to see the war. … What a horror it was.” To this day, he told Perkins, “Every time I go to the beach, all I can see is blood-stained sand.” The day after he landed on Omaha, “bulldozers hurriedly dug a channel to bury all of the dead bodies,” he said. “… It was a nightmare for us. At the same time, he points out, “I was a Christian, and I knew Jesus was my Savior.”

Days later, still in France, Fred walked into the familiar smell of “decaying flesh in a heavily shelled area.” A teenager, also 19, was sitting by the road bruised and covered in blood. “There’s no hope,” the young man said through tears. Lunsford asked him if he was a Christian. “There is hope,” Fred urged. “Get up… come on, let’s go.”

Months later, after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and returning to the U.S. in one piece, Lunsford decided to preach the gospel — something he did for over 70 years. “I’ve stood with many families that have [experienced] grief or [who] sent away a young man [full of life only to] come back in a box. … [Those are] the ones I’m praying for. I’m praying that God will give them comfort and [peace]. That’s the only way. The only comfort we could get is from our Eternal Father.”

Fred is one of less than 200 D-Day veterans alive today to mark the 80th anniversary of the largest sea invasion in history. He, like so many, have walked the white gravestones of the 10,000 Americans who died that fateful day in June. “He’s why,” Mark LiVecche insisted, “we are enjoying the freedoms that come at tremendous cost.” After all, the distinguished scholar of Ethics, War, and Public Life at Providence Institute of Religion and Democracy, emphasized, “Freedom is not free.”

Asked what he made of the valor of that generation, Rep. Keith Self (R-Texas), part of the congressional delegation who made the trip to commemorate that incredible day, told Perkins somberly, “That’s why I’m here — both to remember and to make sure that we are worthy of the sacrifice that these men around me here [made]. … They literally went into a living hell… to secure freedom for Europe. That’s what we need to be worthy of.”

The thing that weighs on him, Self said, is the need for America’s faith to be maintained. “Our civilization has to be maintained,” he insisted. “That’s what we’re losing today.” And “as one of our Founders said, only a virtuous people can know freedom because we need a civic conscience. We need [to govern] ourselves, to answer to a higher being…”

For men like Lunsford, that higher being is all that matters. As Baptist leader David Horton told Haseltine, when he met Fred, “it was almost like we had to force him to talk about the fact that he was a hero in the war. Fred wanted to talk most about prayer.”

And for the last five years, that’s exactly what the 99-year-old is known for. His epic Praying on the Mountain movement from 2020 moved more than a quarter million people to their knees in search of revival. He believed then — and does now — that God is “moving and we need to listen.”

People like Horton, who’ve met the humble veteran, say, “He took time to tell us some stories of being in the war, but his primary mission and goal in life at this point is to fight a spiritual battle. He believes that battle is best won through prayer. … I think World War II, although it’s always in his mind, it’s not nearly as important as the spiritual battle that he’s fighting now.” 

It’s as he told the young man weeping on the road next to unspeakable carnage in France, “Through the fires, through the waters, through the terrible times, one thing you can always see [is] Jesus leading the way,” Lunsford insists. No matter what happens, “There is hope.”

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.