During the Christmas season of 1944, General George S. Patton was leading the Third Army into Germany. Many Americans thought World War II was virtually won in the European theater, but in December Germany launched its last major offensive of the war. Overnight, Allied soldiers found themselves facing a tough fight in hard and cold rain. It became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
So much depended on the Third Army, but Patton was concerned about the freezing conditions. The weather could not have been worse for the Americans. Those soldiers and officers who thought the war was over suddenly found themselves plunged back into a conflict more harsh than most of them had previously faced.
On December 8, 1944, General Patton called Msgr. James H. O’Neill, Chief Chaplain of the Third Army, and asked, “Do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.” It had rained since September. Monsignor O’Neill could not find a prayer for weather in his books, so he composed one on a 3×5 card. It said:
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.
Remembering the season, Monsignor O’Neill typed a Christmas greeting from Patton to the soldiers on the back of the card.
Patton liked the prayer and the cards. He ordered 250,000 copies printed up and distributed to every man in the Third Army.
Patton then discussed his belief in the power of prayer with Monsignor O’Neill:
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 . . . [i]t will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.
So, on December 14, Training Letter No. 5 went out to all the Chaplains of the Third Army. It told them:
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 . . . . [W]e 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.
The letters and cards were sent December 12-14. On December 16, the Germans made some advances. Due to the fog, visibility was reduced to a few yards, and the pounding rain drowned out most other noise. Allied troops found it hard to fight an enemy they could neither see nor hear. For three days it looked like the Nazis’ desperate gamble would succeed.
Patton rushed his divisions north from the Saar Valley to relieve the troops at the Siege of Bastogne (where General McAuliffe met a German demand for surrender with a one word reply, “Nuts”). On December 20, to the consternation of the Germans, the delight of the Americans, and the surprise of the weather forecasters, the rains stopped. Patton’s Christmas prayer was answered. For the better part of a week came bright, clear skies and perfect weather.
American pilots could now see, and their planes knocked out hundreds of tanks, killed thousands of enemy troops, and cut off enemy supply lines. With that support, American troops who could see the Germans could now win the fight. The Allies were victorious in the Battle of the Bulge, and the war was soon over.
In late January 1945, Monsignor O’Neill saw Patton again in Luxembourg. Patton stood directly in front of the priest and smiled: “Well, Padre, our prayers worked. I knew they would.” Then he cracked the good father on the side of his helmet with a riding crop. As the monsignor later wrote, that was Patton’s way of saying, “Well done.”