General George S Patton and his Third Army are bogged down. They are trying to reach the embattled troops of the 101st Airborne who are holding the town of Bastogne, Belgium. The town is critical to the Germans as they launch the last major battle of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge.
The 101st is surrounded and greatly outnumbered, but General Anthony McAuliffe and his men will hold ‘till Patton arrives or fight to the last man. When a medic in the field hospital learns of the situation, he utters what the others all know, “They’ve got us surrounded. The poor bastards.” These words are not mere bravado, the men of the 101st are America’s finest. When the Germans ask McAuliffe to surrender to save his men from slaughter, he sends back a one word reply. “Nuts.”
It is the closing days of the war, it is December and the weather is foul, Patton will not leave these men to fate. The German’s respect and fear Patton, they consider him the Allied’s best general. His tactical genius has already defeated the forces of Germany’s best general, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, in the African campaign.
Patton only knows one way to fight a war and that is to attack the enemy, but now his rescue effort is hampered by bad weather. So he goes to James H. O’Neill, the Chief Chaplin of the Third Army, for a “weather prayer” to change the status quo. Patton reads the prayer and returns it to the Chaplain with the directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.” Here is O’Neill’s 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. 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.”
But Patton is a man of God, an Episcopalian, a man of prayer, who believes in the Bible and the God of the Bible (somehow he has reconciled his belief in reincarnation with his Christian faith, but I believe we all have personal doctrinal issues to contend with). Patton is an irreverent, foul mouth soldier, but he has a relationship with God, so he pens his own prayer as was his custom.
The following is the prayer written by General George Patton during his Third Army’s advancement to the town of Bastogne, he finds a Catholic chapel to visit to pray to his Lord.
“Lord, this is Patton speaking to you. The last fourteen days have been awful. Rain, snow, more rain, more snow— and I am beginning to wonder what’s going on in Your headquarters. Whose side are You on anyway?
For three years, my chaplains have been telling me that this is a religious war. This, they tell me, is the Crusades all over again, except we’re riding tanks instead of chargers. They insist that we are here to annihilate the Germans and the godless Hitler so that religious freedom may return to Europe. Up until now I have gone along with them, for You have given us Your unreserved cooperation. Clear skies and a calm sea in Africa made the landings highly successful and helped us to eliminate Rommel. Sicily was comparatively easy and You supplied excellent weather for the armored dash across France, the greatest military victory that You have thus far allowed me. You have often given me excellent guidance in difficult command situations and you have led German units into traps that made their elimination fairly simple.
But now You’ve changed horses midstream. You seem to have given von Rundstedt every break in the book, and frankly, he’s beating the hell out of us. My army is neither trained nor equipped for winter warfare. And as You know, this weather is more suitable for Eskimos than for Southern cavalrymen.
But now, Sir, I can’t help but feel that I have offended You in some way. That suddenly You have lost all sympathy for our cause. That you are throwing in with von Rundstedt and his paper-hanging god (Hitler). You know without me telling You that our situation is desperate. Sure, I can tell my staff that everything is going according to plan, but there’s no use telling You that my 101st Airborne is holding out against tremendous odds in Bastogne, and that this continual storm is making it impossible to supply them from the air. I’ve sent Hugh Gaffey, one of my ablest generals, with his 4th Armored Division, north toward that all-important road center to relieve the encircled garrison and he’s finding Your weather more difficult than the Krauts.
I don’t like to complain unreasonably, but my soldiers from Meuse to Echternach are suffering tortures of the damned. Today I visited several hospitals, all full of frostbite cases, while the wounded are dying in the fields because they cannot be brought back for medical care.
Damn it, Sir, I can’t fight a shadow. Without Your cooperation from a weather standpoint, I am deprived of accurate disposition of the German armies and how in the hell can I be intelligent in my attack? All of this probably sounds unreasonable to You, but I have lost all patience with Your chaplains who insist that this is a typical Ardennes winter, and that I must have faith.
Faith and patience be damned! You have just got to make up Your mind whose side You are on. You must come to my assistance, so that I may dispatch the entire German army as a birthday present to Your Prince of Peace.
Sir, I have never been an unreasonable man; I am not going to ask You to do the impossible. I do not even insist upon a miracle, for all I request is four days of clear weather.
Give me four clear days so my planes can fly, so that my fighter bombers can bomb and strafe, so that my reconnaissance planes can pick out targets for my magnificent artillery. Give me four days of sunshine to dry this blasted mud, so that my tanks roll, so that ammunition and the rations may be taken to my hungry, ill-equipped infantry. I need these four days to send von Rundstedt and his godless army to their Valhalla. I am sick of this unnecessary butchering of American youth, and in exchange for four days of fighting weather, I will deliver You enough Krauts to keep Your bookkeepers months behind in their work.
Patton gets his four days of good weather. After Bastogne is relieved and Patton sees the effects of both the good weather and bad, on December 27, 1944 he prays in a small Catholic chapel, “Sir, this is Patton again. And I beg to report complete progress. Sir, it seems to me that You have been much better informed about the situation than I was, because it was that awful weather which I cursed You so much which made it possible for the German army to commit suicide. That, Sir, was a brilliant military move, and I bow humbly to Your supreme genius.”
History tells us what happened:
As General Patton attempted to rush his divisions north from the Saar Valley to relief the beleaguered 101st at Bastogne, the prayer was answered. On December 20, to the consternation of the Germans and the delight of the American forecasters, who were equally surprised at the turn in weather, the rains and the fogs ceased. For the better part of a week came bright clear skies and perfect flying weather. American planes came over by the thousands and knocked out hundreds of tanks, killing thousands of the enemy. The 101st Airborne at Bastogne was saved. General Patton prayed for fair weather, and he got it.
How about you? Do you have the courage to go, as Patton did, boldly to the throne of Grace and honestly and simply plead your cause? Do you have the audacity to be brutally honest before your God? Can you right now write out your petition to deliver to the maker of heaven and earth, the creator of all things, both visible and invisible? If you have the boldness, the faith, you can move the immovable in your life. Just throw off religious pretense and get down in the mud. The Lord is looking for a few good men and women who will attack the enemy.
Thanks for reading,
U.S. Army Chaplains Corp 1968-1974