I thought I’d be writing you tomorrow that I didn’t have any time to write you today and that you’d have to chalk up one more day that I had to miss. I guess there haven’t been too many misses in the 13 months, dear, have there? At any rate, there’s been a little break in my running around and I’m writing you now. You’ll notice, darling, that I don’t write very often – if ever – at night. The reason is the poor lighting facilities which at present consist of a kerosene lamp. We play Bridge by it – with the help of a candle on the opposite corner of the table – but on the whole – it is not very good light for writing.
It’s a funny thing – but by comparison with the summertime – we’re relatively immobile now and yet it doesn’t seem as if I get as much time to sit down and write a decent letter. What I wonder, sometimes, is how my letters were in August and September when we were really eating up the ground and moving every other day or so. I don’t know how I got letters out to you every day, then; making a 60 or 70 mile trip in each forward move – was not unusual. I wish we were doing it now. We haven’t got a heck of a lot more than 300 miles to go, I should say. I think once this bitter fighting is over with – we’ll start traveling swiftly.
Well, sweetheart, after sweating out several days of no mail – I got two from you – the most recent in several months, too – one from the 25th and one from the 26th of November. And I got a real kick out of your story about the clock. I’m amazed it came at all and surprised that there was so much damage to it. As you saw, darling, it was packed pretty well, but I guess they just toss things around anyway they wish. I think I was wrong in not sending a little diagram along to help you put it together – but then look at all the fun you’d miss. I’m not surprised at your not fancying the thing at first. When I saw it – I fell for it immediately – but I didn’t see it in a box; it was resting on a tremendous mantelpiece – in a very large room – drawing room, reception room, – I don’t know which; all the furniture was period and French – and this clock “belonged”. The home, I should say Palace – was that of Baron Maurice de Rothschild and I believe I told you already what a magnificent place it was. So if nothing more, Sweetheart, you at least have a clock that once belonged to the Rothschilds. As for what to do with it, sweetheart – that’s up to you. You might as well use it – if it fits into the house anywhere. Or put it away if it doesn’t. I merely sent it as a memento – and on the spur of the moment did I obtain it –
Well, darling, that’s all for now. It was swell hearing from you again and maybe we’ll get some more regular service now. Be well, dear, and don’t be blue. All will turn out O.K. and we’ll have each other yet. Keep loving me as I love you darling, and that’s all that matters now. Love to everyone at home. So long for now.
and Christmas Greeting
General Patton... 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 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... 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... 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 one, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver... 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? ... 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... 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.
He 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... What was coming now?To further show his appreciation, General Patton awarded the Bronze Star Medal to Chaplain O'Neill. Chaplain James H. O'Neill retired as a Brigadier General.
"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 call it, but I call it Religion, Prayer, or God..."
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.
"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..."
"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... 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..."
"Be assured that this message on prayer has the approval, the encouragement, and the enthusiastic support of the Third United States Army Commander..."
The timing of the Prayer story is important. Both the Prayer Cards and Training Letter No. 5 reached the troops by December 12-14. The German 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... found it hard to fight an enemy they could neither see nor hear... The German Sixth Panzer Army... seared through the Ardennes like a hot knife through butter. The First Army's VIII Corps was holding this area with three infantry divisions thinly disposed over an 88-mile front and with one armored division far to the rear, in reserve... 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 done."