After the breakout from Normandy and the swift advance across France the Allies had come to a halt and were ‘bogged down’ on the approach roads to Germany. There were many causes for the frustrating turn of events, not least the difficulty of maintaining the lines of supply. The weather also played its part. The almost incessant rain for the past couple of months was not only making life miserable for everyone on the front but was also contributing to the delays.
One man was frustrated by the rain more than most. General George S. Patton lived for swift advances. He would do anything to challenge the obstacles in his way, including ‘immoderate’ rainfall. On this occasion he turned to God and the power of Prayer.
Monsignor James H. O’Neill, the man responsible for the Prayer, explains how it came about:
The incident of the now famous Patton Prayer commenced with a telephone call to the Third Army Chaplain on the morning of December 8, 1944, when the Third Army Headquarters were located in the Caserne Molifor in Nancy, France:
“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.”
My reply was that I know where to look for such a prayer, that I would locate, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver, about eleven in the morning, I looked out on the steadily falling rain, “immoderate” I would call it – the same rain that had plagued Patton’s Army throughout the Moselle and Saar Campaigns from September until now, December 8.
The few prayer books at hand contained no formal prayer on weather that might prove acceptable to the Army Commander. Keeping his immediate objective in mind, I typed an original and an improved copy on a 5″ x 3″ filing card:
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 upon 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.
I pondered the question, What use would General Patton make of the prayer? Surely not for private devotion. If he intended it for circulation to chaplains or others, with Christmas not far removed, it might he proper to type the Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings on the reverse side. This would please the recipient, and anything that pleased the men I knew would please him:
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.
This done, I donned my heavy trench coat, crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks, and reported to General Patton. He read the prayer copy, returned it to me with a very casual directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”
The size of the order amazed me; this was certainly doing something about the weather in a big way. But I said nothing but the usual, “Very well, Sir!” Recovering, I invited his attention to the reverse side containing the Christmas Greeting, with his name and rank typed. “Very good,” he said, with a smile of approval.
“If the General would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like.” He took his place at his desk, signed the card, returned it to me and then said: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.”
He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of personal responsibility.
This is part of a longer account which also describes the origins of Training Letter No.5 which Patton sent to Chaplains in the Third Army at the same time, which began:
At this stage of the operations I would call upon the chaplains and the men of the Third United States Army to focus their attention on the importance of prayer.
The original story appeared in the US Government publication Review of the News and is now available at Patton HQ.
The cards and the instructions about Prayer arrived with the men on the frontline just before they were called on to intervene in the Battle of the Bulge. Just after the Third Army began their involvement in the battle the weather cleared up and Allied aircraft were able to make their decisive contribution to halting the German advance.
Brigadier General Monsignor James H. O’Neill concludes his account:
It was late in January of 1945 when I saw the Army Commander again. This was in the city of Luxembourg. He stood directly in front of me, smiled: “Well, Padre, our prayers worked. I knew they would.”
Then he cracked me on the side of my steel helmet with his riding crop. That was his way of saying, “Well done.”