Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dec. 12 -26 1944, A Christmas Story: Patton's weather prayer and the relief of Bastonge

From Ladislas Farago's Patton: Ordeal and Triumph

"Chaplain," Patton told O'Neil, "I want you to pray for dry weather. I'm sick and tired of these soldiers having to fight mud and floods as well as the Germans. See if you can't get God to work on our side."

"Sir," the Chaplain replied, 'it's going to take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying."

"I don't care if it takes a flying carpet," Patton said. "I want you to get up a prayer for good weather."

"Yes sir," Chaplain O'Neil said. "But, permit me to say, General, that it isn't the customary thing among men of my profession to pray for clear weather to kill our fellow men."

"Chaplain," Patton began to fume, "are you teaching me theology or are you the Chaplain of the Third Army? I want a prayer."

"Yes sir," Colonel O'Neil said. When he was outside he asked Harkins, "What do you think the Old Man wants?"

"The General wants a prayer," Harkins said crisply, because, as he put it, this whole transaction was perfectly clear to him. "He wants it right now, and he wants it published to the Command."

...The Lord was in no special hurry to answer the prayer. It was only on December
23rd that He and His inscrutable wisdom deemed it the right time to stop the rains and clear the weather. The timing was superb, because, as we shall see, Patton by then needed clear skies..

For, by then, Patton had been assigned a different task. He needed those clear skies to relieve the 101st Airborne, stubbornly holding on in Bastogne against heavy German attack..

"For the first time in weeks, the weather was actually fine. The clear skies were promptly filled with Allied aircraft - 7 groups of fighter-bombers, 11 groups of medium bombers, a division of the 8th Air Force, and a smattering of RAF planes.

Patton was jubilant. He called Colonel Harkins to his office at Luxembourg and received his Deputy Chief of Staff wearing a smile from ear to ear. "Goddamnit, Harkins," he exclaimed, "look at the weather! That O'Neil sure did some potent praying. Get him up here. I want to pin a medal on him."

Chaplain O'Neil was still in Nancy, but now he was rushed to Luxembourg on Patton's orders. The weather was still fine the next day when he walked into the General's office. Patton jumped to his feet and approached the embarrassed Colonel with hand outstretched. "Chaplain," he greeted him, "you're the most popular man in this Headquarters. You sure stand in good with the Lord and soldiers." Then he pinned the Bronze Star Medal on his chest.

"Everyone offered congratulations and thanks." Harkins recalled, "and we got back to the business of killing Germans."

And the famous 1970 film version of the prayer itself, as read by George C. Scott, accompanied by the incomparable Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score:

Sorry, that's the only version available on YouTube