It’s amazing when you look back in time over Christmas and our soldiers, what a vital role prayer has played. Especially in 1944, when General Patton needed prayer for fair weather he expressed it in his Christmas card that was circulated among the troops to over 486 chaplains and the entire Third Army.
Patton looms large over American political history, especially after George C. Scott’s masterful screen performance as the World War II general.
Few scenes in American cinematic history are as iconic as Scott, in character, pacing before the American flag and delivering a speech to his men.
During the holiday season of 1944, Patton’s Third Army was bogged down in its advance against the Germans.
Unfortunately, due to the weather, Gen. Patton didn’t have the air cover he needed to relieve the 15,000 brave American troops holding off the Germans.
In early December 1944, the headquarters of the Third Army was in the Caserne Molifor, an old French military barracks in Nancy in the region of Lorraine, a ninety-minute train ride from Paris. At eleven o’clock on the morning of December 8, Patton telephoned the head chaplain, Monsignor James H. O’Neill: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.”
One account of what happened after Patton’s telephone call to O’Neill is related by Colonel Paul Harkins, Patton’s deputy chief of staff. It appears as a footnote in War As I Knew It, a book based on Patton’s diaries and published in 1947, after his death.
On or about the fourteenth of December, 1944, General Patton called Chaplain O’Neill, Third Army Chaplain, and myself into his office in Third Headquarters at Nancy. The conversation went something like this:
General Patton: “Chaplain, I want you to publish a prayer for good weather. I’m tired of these soldiers having to fight mud and floods as well as Germans. See if we can’t get God to work on our side.”
Chaplain O’Neill: “Sir, it’s going to take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying.”
General Patton: “I don’t care if it takes a flying carpet. I want the praying done.”
Chaplain O’Neill: “Yes, sir. May I say, General, that it usually isn’t a customary thing among men of my profession to pray for clear weather to kill fellow men.”
General Patton: “Chaplain, are you trying to teach me theology or are you the Chaplain of the Third Army? I want a prayer.”
Chaplain O’Neill: “Yes, sir.”
Outside, the Chaplain said, “Whew, that’s a tough one! What do you think he wants?” It was perfectly clear to me. The General wanted a prayer—he wanted one right now— and he wanted it published to the Command.
The Army Engineer was called in, and we finally decided that our field topographical company could print the prayer on a small-sized card, making enough copies for distribution to the army. It being near Christmas, we also asked General Patton to include a Christmas greeting to the troops on the same card with the prayer. The General agreed, wrote a short greeting, and the card was made up, published, and distributed to the troops on the twenty-second of December.
It was distributed to each one of the 250,000 troops under his command in the Third Army, and had all of the men pray this simple prayer:
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend,” it read.
“Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”
On the reverse side, Patton wrote, “To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. — G.S. Patton, Jr., Lieutenant General, Commanding, Third United States Army.”
And it worked.
The next day, the weather cleared, Patton’s Third Army made its way into Bastogne to relieve the 101st Airborne, stymie the Nazis, and … well, you know the rest.
Talk about a Christmas card and the power of prayer! Even Patton knew the importance of prayer in war during Christmas.
For all those who serve our country and are away from your families – God Bless You! and THANK YOU for serving our country!
Resource: Western Journalism, History on the Net