In December 1944, the 101st Airborne was under siege at the Belgian town of Bastogne. The Germans had the 101st surrounded. Rain and overcast skies prevented Allied air support from pounding enemy positions in the area.
Gen. George S. Patton Jr., commander of the Third Army, requested Chaplain James O’Neill to compose a prayer. The 101st was in a desperate position at Bastogne, and Patton’s Third Army needed clear skies to disengage the enemy in their present position and turn north to attack the Germans and relieve the 101st. O’Neill is said to have questioned that it wasn’t customary to pray for clear weather “to kill fellow men.” Patton’s response: “Chaplain, are you teaching me theology or are you the Chaplain of the Third Army? I want a prayer.” And he got it.
Patton ordered 250,000 prayer cards printed up — one for every member of the Third Army. The distribution, Dec. 12-14.
On Dec. 20, the rain ceased and the fog lifted over Bastogne, much to the surprise of American weather forecasters. “Bright, clear skies and perfect flying weather” brought American planes to decimate the enemy, knocking out “hundreds of tanks” and killing thousands of enemy troops, harassing German reinforcements, and finally “driving the Germans home.” Patton’s prayer was answered.
This prayer read: “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 back of each card, Patton offered a Christmas greeting to his troops: “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. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”
Patton, reflecting on the war in 1945, advised: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”