Many stories of heroism, devotion to duty, and faith have come out of the Battle of the Bulge that was fought 75 years ago this month. One of the most enduring of these stories is of Patton’s prayer.
In December 1944 the Allies, while sure to win the War in Europe against Germany, were in trouble. The Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, the longest engagement ever fought by the U.S. Army, was still raging and the Allies' advance to Germany was proceeding extremely slowly due to bad weather and stretched supply lines.
The German Army, for the first time since Frederick the Great, launched a major winter offensive. In Germany, the battle was called the Ardennes Counteroffensive but it became popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge and the goal was to split the Western Allied armies so that they would sue for a separate peace with Germany.
The Germans were initially successful in the counterattack and the Allies were hampered by poor weather even before the offensive began.
To combat the cold weather Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Commander of the Third United States Army, called in Third Army Chaplain Msgr. Francis O’Neill. Patton told Chaplain O’Neill to compose a prayer for fair weather for battle. In an hour, Chaplain O’Neill completed a tough theological task and came up with a Biblically appropriate prayer to match the General’s request. The prayer read:
“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. 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.”
Patton loved the prayer and had it distributed as the first portion of a two part Christmas greeting that he had sent to the Third Army. The second, Christmas message read:
"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.”
Not long after the prayer was written and distributed, the Third Army began to pray in greater intensity. The weather began to get better and, the day after Christmas, Patton’s Army reached the famed 101st Airborne Division whom had been surrounded and valiantly defending the city of Bastogne, Belgium. While still more battles were to be fought, the Germany offensive was on its way to defeat.
The prayer of the Third Army, commissioned by General Patton, is a strong reminder of the power of prayer and also shows the boldness of an Army seeking God’s assistance in battle; not for vengeance but to establish His justice among men and nations. It is hard to imagine that such a prayer would not be quashed in the present day; not by the enemy on the field of battle, but rather crushed by the forces of political correctness.
Such leaders as General Patton, while often rocking the boat, are important in any organization especially one as resistant to change, and in need of prayer, as our beloved Army. As MSGR James O’Neill, who composed Patton’s Prayer, said about the General, “He had all the traits of military leadership, fortified by genuine trust in God, intense love of country, and high faith In the American soldier. He had no use for half-measures.”
There is much to be gained from Patton’s Prayer and may his message from 75 years ago this month continue to be a guide for United States forces throughout the world, this Christmas season and always, to victory.