Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Patton's Prayer is Answered

I am writing this on June 6th commonly known as D-Day. This special day in our history did not get much attention this year but we should not forget the thousands of young men who died. At the time, you could follow the invasion on the radio and I spent the entire night listening to the Normandy invasion. During the war, I had two heroes: one was General Patton and the other was General MacArthur.
On January 26, 1944, Patton was given command of the Third Army. They were untrained and some were still en route from the United States. Most of them came across on the Ile De France, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary. (The Queen Mary is now docked at Long Beach, CA.) They were met in Glasgow, Scotland, by their new commander, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. Their battle record began on August 1, 1944 at 1200 hours.

 The Third Army consisted of Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Airborne and Air Force. Their history is one of constant attack. “They drove on in fair weather or foul, across favorable terrain or across mud, ice and snow.” It was an army on wheels and thousands of trucks driven by soldiers carried tons of supplies to keep the Army fighting. They called themselves the Red Ball Express. Patton had a truck designed as his sleeping quarters and he used it whenever his Army was in combat. “In terms of speed of advance, in amount of ground liberated or captured, and in terms of losses inflicted upon a powerful enemy there was never before anything like the Third Army’s lightening quick sweep across France.”

On December 8, 1944, Patton called for the Chaplin of the Third Army to find a prayer about rain. (Please see the last blog). The prayer was distributed to the entire Third Army. On December 16th, using the bad weather as a cover and attacking a weak segment of Allied lines, the German army broke through and surrounded Bastogne. The 101st Airborne Division was holding out and “fighting off the fierce attempts by the Germans to overrun Bastogne.” Patton told Eisenhower that he could attack in two days with at least two divisions. “Everyone thought he was crazy.” But Patton had been using his 3 P’s - Planning, Preparation and Prayer. On December 19th, Patton’s Army turned from North to East to meet the attack. On December 20th the skies cleared. His army’s prayer had been answered.

The Chaplin, Brigadier General Msgr. O’Neill, wrote the following as part of an official government document: “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. General Patton prayed for fair weather for battle. He got it.” Without the decisive actions of Patton’s Third Army the Battle of the Bulge would have been a massive disaster for the Allies."

The Chaplin continued: “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.”

Patton was severely injured in an automobile accident on December 9, 1845. He died from a blood clot which reached his lungs. Patton was buried at the Luxembourg Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg on December 21, 1945, along with many members of the Third Army. It was his desire to be “buried with my men.” His body now lies in a prominent location at the head of his former troops, marked by a simple military cross headstone. The cemetery contains 5,076 of our military dead. “Rest in peace - your battles are won.”

Wayne Rethford

P.S. The annual history tour is scheduled for July 16 with a bus trip to Coal City and Braidwood, IL. The cost is $25 per person and includes a box lunch. Bus will leave the Scottish Home at 11 a.m. We will be led by Michele Micetich who is the Curator of the Coal City Museum. To register, please call Kristin at 708-447-5092.

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