The Christmas Prayer Card
In early December 1944, Gen. George Patton’s Third Army was poised for the breakthrough across the Rhine River, a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany by the western allies. The date for the attack was set for Dec. 19 but foul weather threatened to postpone the attack.
At 11 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 8, Patton phoned the Head Chaplain of the Third Army, James H. O’Neill, a Catholic priest.
“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.”
The taciturn O’Neill told Patton that he would research the topic and report back to him within an hour. After hanging up the receiver, O’Neill looked out at the immoderate rains, which had plagued the Third Army’s operations for the past three months. As he searched through his prayer books, he could find no formal prayers pertaining to weather so he composed an original prayer, which he typed on a note 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.
O’Neill threw on his trench coat and crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks then serving as the Third Army’s headquarters and reported to Patton’s office. Patton read the prayer, returned it to O’Neill and directed him to “have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”
The Prayer Card, with a Christmas Greeting printed on the reverse side, reached the troops between Dec. 12 and 14.
Two days later the American armies in Europe would find themselves engaged in the Battle of the Bulge, which remains the greatest battle ever fought by American forces. The outcome of that battle, and possibly of the entire Allied war effort in Europe, would hinge on the weather. As Patton’s adjutant, Paul Harkins would later write:
Whether it was the help of the Divine guidance asked for in the prayer or just the normal course of human events, we never knew; at any rate, on the twenty-third, the day after the prayer was issued, the weather cleared and remained perfect for about six days. Enough to allow the Allies to break the backbone of the Von Runstedt offensive and turn a temporary setback into a crushing defeat for the enemy.
May God’s Christmas peace be yours, Pastor Larry
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