The Day a Train Station Knelt in Prayer

On the morning of D-Day, commuters transformed Washington, D.C.'s Union Station into a special place for peace and prayer.

Posted in , May 22, 2019

The Royal Navy during the Second World War- Operation Overlord (the Normandy Landings)- D-day 6 June 1944 Glider borne troops passing over units of the Royal Navy on their way to the invasion beaches of Normandy. In the background are the battleships HMS

This story first appeared in the June 1958 issue of Guideposts.

Thousands of people criss-crossed back and forth through Washington’s Union Station that morning back in 1944. The high-ceilinged central waiting room was alive with a tense excitement that was reflected on the faces and in the quick footsteps of the wartime commuters coming to the capital. There was a sense of expectancy in the air. For weeks, months, one word had been in people’s minds. It hung in the air, almost touchable, just out of reach: Invasion.

I stood there on this morning of June 6, 1944, waiting for a friend and scanning the faces of the commuters as they poured out of their trains and into the station. There was no announcement on the loudspeaker, no Extras were shouted, there was no visible source of the news: but suddenly the scurrying and the criss-crossing stopped, the loud hum of a thousand conversations ceased, the news passed from friend to friend, from stranger to stranger: “What is it? What’s happened?”

“The Invasion’s begun... they’re landing in Normandy.”

A hush fell over the waiting room. I was aware of little things—the soft tread of the few people still walking, the stream of sunlight that fell into the waiting room as it does in a cathedral.

While I stood watching, it began. First it was a woman who, right there in the station, dropped to her knees and folded her hands; near her, a man knelt down. Then another, and another, until all around me people knelt in prayer before the hard wooden benches of Union Station.

What were we praying for that morning of the Invasion? For Jim or for Franz, or for Giovanni—or just for peace. Perhaps for no reason at all, except that in the hush we felt the need to pray.

The quiet lasted for no longer than a few minutes. Then, slowly, the woman rose to her feet. The man next to her rose, too, cleared his throat and walked off rapidly as if he felt a sudden embarrassment. Within seconds the station was alive with movement and talk again. But for those of us who witnessed the hush, Union Station will always have a special meaning: we were there on the day the railroad station in Washington, D. C., became a house of worship.

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