General Patton'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."
The True Story of The Patton Prayer by Msgr. James H. O'Neill
Many conflicting and some untrue stories have been printed
about General George S. Patton and the Third Army Prayer. Some
have had the tinge of blasphemy and disrespect for the Deity.
Even in "War As I Knew It" by General Patton, the footnote
on the Prayer by Colonel Paul D. Harkins, Patton's Deputy Chief
of Staff, while containing the elements of a funny story about
the General and his Chaplain, is not the true account of the prayer
Incident or its sequence.
As the Chief Chaplain of the Third Army throughout the five
campaigns on the Staff of General Patton, I should have some knowledge
of the event because at the direction of General Patton I composed
the now world famous Prayer, and wrote Training Letter No. 5,
which constitutes an integral, but untold part, of the prayer
story. These Incidents, narrated in sequence, should serve to
enhance the memory of the man himself, and cause him to be enshrined
by generations to come as one of the greatest of our soldiers.
He had all the traits of military leadership, fortified by genuine
trust in God, intense love of country, and high faith In the American
He had no use for half-measures. He wrote this line a few days
before his death: "Anyone in any walk of life who is content
with mediocrity is untrue to himself and to American tradition."
He was true to the principles of his religion, Episcopalian, and
was regular in Church attendance and practices, unless duty made
his presence Impossible.
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
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
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
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 . Even in the heat
of combat he could take time out to direct new methods to prevent
trench feet, to see to it that dry socks went forward daily with
the rations to troops on the line, to kneel in the mud administering
morphine and caring for a wounded soldier until the ambulance
Came. What was coming now?
"Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third
Army?" was his question. I parried: "Does the General
mean by chaplains, or by the men?" "By everybody,"
he replied. To this I countered: "I am afraid to admit it,
but I do not believe that much praying is going on. When there
Is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain --
when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait
for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains
and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer
to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special
posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying
is being done."
The General left the window, and again seated himself at his
desk, leaned back in his swivel chair, toying with a long lead
pencil between his index fingers.
Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer. There are three
ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and
by Praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning,
or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it
out: that's working. But between the plan and the operation there
is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success
or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when
it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I
call it God. God has His part, or margin in everything, That's
where prayer comes in. Up to now, in the Third Army, God has been
very good to us. We have never retreated; we have suffered no
defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people
back home are praying for us. We were lucky in Africa, in Sicily,
and in Italy. Simply because people prayed. But we have to pray
for ourselves, too. A good soldier is not made merely by making
him think and work. There is something in every soldier that goes
deeper than thinking or working--it's his "guts." It
is something that he has built in there: it is a world of truth
and power that is higher than himself. Great living is not all
output of thought and work. A man has to have intake as well.
I don't know what you it, but I call it Religion, Prayer, or God.
He talked about Gideon in the Bible, said that men should pray
no matter where they were, in church or out of it, that if they
did not pray, sooner or later they would "crack up."
To all this I commented agreement, that one of the major training
objectives of my office was to help soldiers recover and make
their lives effective in this third realm, prayer. It would do
no harm to re-impress this training on chaplains. We had about
486 chaplains in the Third Army at that time, representing 32
denominations. Once the Third Army had become operational, my
mode of contact with the chaplains had been chiefly through Training
Letters issued from time to time to the Chaplains in the four
corps and the 22 to 26 divisions comprising the Third Army. Each
treated of a variety of subjects of corrective or training value
to a chaplain working with troops in the field. [Patton continued:]
I wish you would put out a Training Letter on this subject
of Prayer to all the chaplains; write about nothing else, just
the importance of prayer. Let me see it before you send it. We've
got to get not only the chaplains but every man in the Third Army
to pray. We must ask God to stop these rains. These rains are
that margin that hold defeat or victory. If we all pray, it will
be like what Dr. Carrel said [the allusion was to a press quote
some days previously when Dr. Alexis Carrel, one of the foremost
scientists, described prayer "as one of the most powerful
forms of energy man can generate"], it will be like plugging
in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer
completes that circuit. It is power.
With that the General arose from his chair, a sign that the
interview was ended. I returned to my field desk, typed Training
Letter No. 5 while the "copy" was "hot," touching
on some or all of the General's reverie on Prayer, and after staff
processing, presented it to General Patton on the next day. The
General read it and without change directed that it be circulated
not only to the 486 chaplains, but to every organization commander
down to and including the regimental level. Three thousand two
hundred copies were distributed to every unit in the Third Army
over my signature as Third Army Chaplain. Strictly speaking, it
was the Army Commander's letter, not mine. Due to the fact that
the order came directly from General Patton, distribution was
completed on December 11 and 12 in advance of its date line, December
14, 1944. Titled "Training Letter No. 5," with the salutary
"Chaplains of the Third Army," the letter continued:
"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.
"Our glorious march from the Normandy Beach across France
to where we stand, before and beyond the Siegfried Line, with
the wreckage of the German Army behind us should convince the
most skeptical soldier that God has ridden with our banner. Pestilence
and famine have not touched us. We have continued in unity of
purpose. We have had no quitters; and our leadership has been
masterful. The Third Army has no roster of Retreats. None of Defeats.
We have no memory of a lost battle to hand on to our children
from this great campaign.
"But we are not stopping at the Siegfried Line. Tough
days may be ahead of us before we eat our rations in the Chancellery
of the Deutsches Reich.
"As chaplains it is our business to pray. We preach its
importance. We urge its practice. But the time is now to intensify
our faith in prayer, not alone with ourselves, but with every
believing man, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Christian in the
ranks of the Third United States Army.
"Those who pray do more for the world than those who fight;
and if the world goes from bad to worse, it is because there are
more battles than prayers. 'Hands lifted up,' said Bosuet, 'smash
more battalions than hands that strike.' Gideon of Bible fame
was least in his father's house. He came from Israel's smallest
tribe. But he was a mighty man of valor. His strength lay not
in his military might, but in his recognition of God's proper
claims upon his life. He reduced his Army from thirty-two thousand
to three hundred men lest the people of Israel would think that
their valor had saved them. We have no intention to reduce our
vast striking force. But we must urge, instruct, and indoctrinate
every fighting man to pray as well as fight. In Gideon's day,
and in our own, spiritually alert minorities carry the burdens
and bring the victories.
"Urge all of your men to pray, not alone in church, but
everywhere. Pray when driving. Pray when fighting. Pray alone.
Pray with others. Pray by night and pray by day. Pray for the
cessation of immoderate rains, for good weather for Battle. Pray
for the defeat of our wicked enemy whose banner is injustice and
whose good is oppression. Pray for victory. Pray for our Army,
and Pray for Peace.
"We must march together, all out for God. The soldier
who 'cracks up' does not need sympathy or comfort as much as he
needs strength. We are not trying to make the best of these days.
It is our job to make the most of them. Now is not the time to
follow God from 'afar off.' This Army needs the assurance and
the faith that God is with us. With prayer, we cannot fail.
"Be assured that this message on prayer has the approval,
the encouragement, and the enthusiastic support of the Third United
States Army Commander.
"With every good wish to each of you for a very Happy
Christmas, and my personal congratulations for your splendid and
courageous work since landing on the beach, I am," etc.,
etc., signed The Third Army Commander.
The timing of the Prayer story is important: let us rearrange
the dates: the "Prayer Conference" with General Patton
was 8 December; the 664th Engineer Topographical Company, at the
order of Colonel David H. Tulley, C.E., Assistant to the Third
Army Engineer, working night and day reproduced 250,000 copies
of the Prayer Card; the Adjutant General, Colonel Robert S. Cummings,
supervised the distribution of both the Prayer Cards and Training
Letter No. 5 to reach the troops by December 12-14. The breakthrough
was on December 16 in the First Army Zone when the Germans crept
out of the Schnee Eifel Forest in the midst of heavy rains, thick
fogs, and swirling ground mists that muffled sound, blotted out
the sun, and reduced visibility to a few yards. The few divisions
on the Luxembourg frontier were surprised and brushed aside. They
found it hard to fight an enemy they could neither see nor hear.
For three days it looked to the jubilant Nazis as if their desperate
gamble would succeed. They had achieved compete surprise. Their
Sixth Panzer Army, rejuvenated in secret after its debacle in
France, seared through the Ardennes like a hot knife through butter.
The First Army's VIII Corps was holding this area with three infantry
divisions (one of them new and in the line only a few days) thinly
disposed over an 88-mile front and with one armored division far
to the rear, in reserve. The VIII Corps had been in the sector
for months. It was considered a semi-rest area and outside of
a little patrolling was wholly an inactive position.
When the blow struck the VIII Corps fought with imperishable
heroism. The Germans were slowed down but the Corps was too shattered
to stop them with its remnants. Meanwhile, to the north, the Fifth
Panzer Army was slugging through another powerful prong along
the vulnerable boundary between the VIII and VI Corps. Had the
bad weather continued there is no telling how far the Germans
might have advanced. On the 19th of December, the Third Army turned
from East to North to meet the attack. As General Patton rushed
his divisions north from the Saar Valley to the relief of the
beleaguered 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-about-the rains
and the fogs ceased. For the better part of a week came bright
clear skies and perfect flying weather. Our planes came over by
tens, hundreds, and thousands. They knocked out hundreds of tanks,
killed thousands of enemy troops in the Bastogne salient, and
harried the enemy as he valiantly tried to bring up reinforcements.
The 101st Airborne, with the 4th, 9th, and 10th Armored Divisions,
which saved Bastogne, and other divisions which assisted so valiantly
in driving the Germans home, will testify to the great support
rendered by our air forces. General Patton prayed for fair weather
for Battle. He got it.
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
(This article appeared as a government document in
At the time it appeared in the Review of the News, Msgr. O'Neill
was a retired Brigadier General living in Pueblo, Colorado.)