As you read this it will soon be June 6 - D-Day. I wonder who will remember this year? The old soldiers are dying by the thousands every day. General Patton is gone. The mothers and fathers who grieved the loss of sons are gone as well. I wrote this blog in 2010. I like the story and repeat it again in honor of all those who serve and die.
Patton was a complex man but a great commanding officer. Some politicians disliked him and some members of the press as well, but his soldiers loved him. Through North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, and northern France, his Army was always on the move. Patton never wanted his troops to dig fox holes because that meant they were not moving. I remember looking at maps in the daily newspaper during the war as they traced the progress of the Third Army. It was quite amazing how many miles they could travel in a single day.
In war, Patton was an unforgiving General. The enemy must be destroyed and killed. But, there was another side to Patton. He often visited the wounded and talked personally to his soldiers. Patton would kneel in the mud and administer a shot to save a wounded man. He was irreligious in his language but he believed that soldiers should pray. Here is the story of what is called Patton’s Prayer.
The phone rang in the office of the Chaplin on December 8, 1944. “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about these rains if we are too win the war.” (Patton was Episcopalian and was regular in his church attendance.) Rain had hindered the Third Army since September and it was now December.
Brigadier General Msgr. James H. O’Neill was the top Third Army Chaplin. (He would later live in Pueblo, CO.) He couldn’t find a prayer so he wrote one: “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.”
On the other side of his 3x5 card, the Chaplain typed a Christmas message. “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 blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. G. S. Patton, Jr., Lieutenant General, Commanding, Third United States Army.”
Patton read both, signed the card and casually said: “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”
There followed a long discussion between the General and the Chaplin about how much “praying is being done in the Third Army.” The General said he was a strong believer in prayer. “There are three ways that men get what they want: by planning, by preparation (working), and by praying. God has His part, or margin, in everything.” Patton continued talking about God’s blessings on the Third Army. “We have never retreated, we have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics.” He talked about Gideon in the Bible and “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.”
As a result of the conversation, Training Letter No. 5 was written and approved by Patton. It was distributed to all 486 chaplains and to every commander down to the regimental level - 2,300 copies. It said in part: “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....We have had no quitters; and our leadership has been masterful....We have no memory of a lost battle to hand on to our children from this great campaign.”
Casualty lists differ but most believe that over 6,000 American soldiers were counted as killed or missing as the result of one days battle, June 6, 1944. We had no quitters...our leadership was masterful...no memory of a lost battle was given to our children, but there were many who died.
Wayne Rethford, President
Scottish American History Club