Today is the 65th anniversary of the launching of Operation Market-Garden, the largest airborne military operation of all time. The endeavor involved drops behind German lines in the Netherlands of almost 35,000 British and American paratroopers, who were to seize and hold a series of bridges over the Rhine River and several tributaries and canals, paving the way for a mighty armored column to pass from south to north and pour into the heart of Germany at Arnhem--and hopefully, end World War II by Christmas 1944. Sadly, the operation's reach exceeded its grasp; while waiting for relief by the much-delayed armored force, several thousand British soldiers were trapped and captured by German troops in and near Arnhem, after eight days of savage fighting. The Arnhem bridge was not secured, and the war dragged on for eight more bloody months.
Being an Allied failure, Operation Market-Garden was not widely celebrated until the release in 1977 of the epic film A Bridge Too Far. Near the end of the film, a group of filthy, injured, and exhausted British troops are huddled in a field hospital about to be taken over by the Germans. One of them quietly begins to sing the hymn Abide With Me, and soon all those who can have joined in. It's one of the most moving scenes in film (war films, anyway).
The text of Abide With Me was written by Rev. Henry F. Lyte in 1847 as he was dying of tuberculosis, which claimed him three weeks later. The hymn was sung at the wedding of King George VI of Great Britain, at the wedding of his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II; and at the funeral of Nobel peace prize winner Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1997.
Today I would like to pay tribute to the men of the British 1st Airborne Division, the American 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, XXX Corps, and all those who fought so hard, bled, and died to free Europe and the world from totalitarian domination. Here is a beautiful rendition of Abide With Me, with the complete lyrics below the video (and here is a link to another stunning rendition by Dame Vera Lynn, the "Forces' Sweetheart").
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word;
But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea —
Come, Friend of sinners, and thus bide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.