You are my war club, my weapon for battle— with you I shatter nations, with you I destroy kingdoms (Jeremiah 51:20).
ABOUT GENERAL GEORGE PATTON
George S. Patton was one of America’s most famous and colorful generals. He is remembered for his heroic march to halt the Nazi’s December 1944 offensive in the Battle of the Bulge and also for slapping Sergeant Charles Kuhl and Private Paul Bennett, August 1943, for cowardice while they were in an army hospital.
At that time the army considered being cowardice what we now term “post-traumatic stress disorder” (known then as ‘battle fatigue’ and/or ‘shell-shock’). The incident made front-page news in the United States and prompted an official, very public reprimand by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe.
PATTON’S RELIGIOUS UPBRINGING
Few realize that Patton was deeply religious. Scott M. Rank, Ph. D, editor of History on the Net, in “The Religious Life of George S. Patton,” gives us a great insight into the religious Patton. His article is a review of Michael Keane’s book, “Patton: Blood, Guts and Prayer.”
Patton, born in 1885, was homeschooled by an aunt during the first twelve years of his life. The historian Carlo D’Este in his book, “Patton: A Genius For War,” relates that Patton had difficulty reading and writing which was probably due to undiagnosed dyslexia. His aunt patiently read to him for three to four hours a day using both the Bible and The Pilgrims Progress as primary textbooks.
He attended Episcopalian services every Sunday with his aunt and recited “liturgical responses from the Book of Common Prayer.” This religious training [together with his learning disability], according to Dr. Rank resulted in Patton “developing an amazing capacity to repeat [these responses from memory] at length.” Overcoming dyslexia, he developed into an avid reader throughout the remainder of his life.
Patton attended church regularly and prayed daily. Besides being a practicing Episcopalian, Patton was theologically inquisitive—he studied the Islamic Koran, Book of Mormon and Hindu Bhagavad Gita. He also believed in reincarnation and unabashedly announced he had lived as a soldier in former lives.
CRITICAL OF CHAPLAINS
According to Rank, those military chaplains who denounced war as “murder [or] dwelt on death or families or sons who would never return home ” Patton termed “pulpit killers.”’ Rank added that Patton lectured chaplains on more than one occasion “for having uninteresting services…[and] insisted on inspirational sermons.”
In addition, Patton “demanded sermons and prayers which emphasized courage and victory.” According to Rank, “at one point he…directed his chief chaplain [Major Monsignor James H. O’Neill] to send out a training letter to…the Third Army on the importance of prayer.” He relates that Patton also believed “his soldiers would crack up…under the pressures of battle…[and that prayer] was a ‘force multiplier’; [increasing and enhancing] …the odds of victory.”
THE PRAYER FOR GOOD WEATHER
Shortly before Patton’s legendary march to save U. S. troops during the Battle of the Bulge, Patton ordered Chaplain O’Neill to write a prayer for good weather—rain and snow had slowed his Third Army to a crawl. His army was marching through the Saar region of France towards Germany. The prayer, together with personal Christmas greetings on the reverse side, was issued to all 250,000 members of his Third Army.
Shortly after the prayer was issued, the German army implemented an offensive which history knows as the Battle of the Bulge. The offensive was aimed at dividing the Allied lines and threatened the up-until-then successful offensive march on Berlin. If successful, Hitler believed he could force the Allies to negotiate a peace treaty and save his Third Reich. The Nazi offensive, taking advantage of the foul weather and radio silence, came as a total surprise to the Allied commanders, with the exception of Patton.
Within days the Nazi’s surrounded the 101st Airborne at the Belgium village of Bastogne. On December 18, 1944 Patton got the call to go to the rescue of the 101st Airborne under siege at Bastogne, a village in Belgium. On the 19th he stunned his cohorts at a meeting at Verdun claiming that he could relieve Bastogne in 48 hours. The truth is Patton had anticipated the German offensive and had had his staff prepare contingency plans to meet the enemy—in other words, he was prepared.
Patton was ordered to march his Third Army approximately 110 miles and fight through German lines to rescue the beleaguered troops. In doing so, he virtually guaranteed that he had to engage in a logistical nightmare by turning his massive armed force by 90 degrees. He would be outnumbered and outgunned. To support the troops, 133,000 tanks and trucks were also turned traveling around the clock to relieve Bastogne.
PATTON TALKS TO GOD: THE DEMANDS
Although Patton was a devout Episcopalian, during the war he frequented Catholic churches. In his own words, he did this “largely for political reasons but also as a means of worshipping God, because I think He is quite impartial as to the form in which he is approached.” A fellow officer who served with Patton in both world wars, Harry Semmes, wrote about Patton’s religious conviction: “his life was dominated by a feeling of dependence on God…[turning] to God for comfort in adversity…and [giving] thanks in success.”
As the Third Army marched back across Europe from Luxembourg to Belgium during the battle, the foul weather continued to dog Patton. It was then that he made his famous prayer. Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard in their book, “Killing Patton,” describe the fateful event: On December 23, 1944, Patton strolled into a Catholic chapel in Luxemburg City since “he needed a place to worship.” He took with him the prayer he had written and began to excoriate God asking Him “Whose side are you on anyway?” He complained that “the past fourteen days have been straight hell. Rain, snow, more rain, more snow…what’s going on in Your headquarters,” he demanded.
Patton continued: “For three years my chaplains have been telling me this is a religious war…they insist…we are here to annihilate the Germans and the godless Hitler.” He added,
Up until now I have gone along with [the chaplains].” After all, he reasoned God had given the Allies “His unreserved cooperation with the weather and calm seas as the Allies advanced.” He scolded God: “Now You’ve changed horses midstream…given [them] every break in the book, and frankly he’s beating the hell out of us…My army is neither trained nor equipped for winter warfare.
The foul weather blanketed the roads with rain and snow slowing men and machinery to a snail’s pace. His air force was grounded, unable to protect his ground troops and bomb and strafe the enemy. The Germans had surrounded Bastogne and sent a German military delegation under a white flag of truce to solicit the 101st Airborne’s surrender in an effort to save the beleaguered Americans from an inevitable bloodbath. The U. S. commander, General Tony McAuliffe, uttered his famous refusal: “Nuts.”
Patton then made a line-in-the-sand demand on God:
Faith and patience be damned! You have just got to make up Your mind whose side you are on. You must come to my assistance, so that I may dispatch the entire German Army as a birthday present [Christmas] to your Prince of Peace…I am sick of this unnecessary butchering of American youth…[give me four days of good weather and]…I will deliver You enough Krauts to keep your bookkeepers months behind in their work. Amen.
The next day the sun shined and two days later—the day after Christmas 1944—Bastogne was relieved.
PATTON TALKS TO GOD: THE APOLOGY
The following day a contrite George Patton visited another Catholic chapel. Addressing God he said: “You have been much better informed about the situation than I was…it [was actually] that awful weather which I cursed You so much which made it possible for the German army to commit suicide…[Yours] was a brilliant military move and I bow humbly to Your supreme genius.” Patton had belatedly realized the foul weather that had plagued him had actually retarded the German offensive from being successful—a gift from God all along.
PATTON ON DEATH
During World War I, Patton confronted death when he was seriously wounded and forced to hunker down in a bomb crater until help could come. He lay in the crater confronting death. Later he wrote that he remembered St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:26) “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is fear of death.”
From his youth he believed his destiny was to be a great general and believed, according to Keane “he believed that after he died he would…be reborn to [once again] lead men in battle.”
On December 9, 1945, Patton was injured and paralyzed in an automobile accident in post-war Germany. Laying in a hospital bed the paralyzed general told his doctors “lets cut out this horse-______…and let me die.” He died twelve days later. Keane reported that The New York Times published a tribute shortly after his death: “he would have preferred to die…when his men, whom he loved, were following him [in battle].” Keane added that Patton had written in a notebook “What then of death? Is not the taps of death but the first call to reveille of eternal life?”