Thursday, December 6, 2012
The U.S. 6th Cavalry Museum is again offering cards featuring a prayer issued when Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army was fighting in Europe during the winter of 1944.
First Lt. George Patton served at Fort Oglethorpe with Troop L of the 6th U.S. Cavalry, and would fondly refer to the 6th as his “household cavalry” during his days as a commanding general during World War II.
It is the third year such cards have been printed by the museum and, as in years past, each carries a message from the general to his troops, a copy of the prayer and a holiday greeting.
This year’s cover reproduces an original oil portrait by renowned American artist Tom Lovell that accompanied an article in True Magazine entitled “Patton’s Christmas Miracle” that was published in December 1947. Museum Director Chris McKeever said she and local artist Durinda Cheek were looking for something suitable for this year’s cover art when they came across a framed print of the painting.
That illustration shows Lt. Gen. Patton, steel helmet in hand, standing inside a damaged church praying for a “miracle.” Details include a battle map on a nearby table as well as the general’s trademark pearl-gripped pistol and his West Point class ring.
The painting depicts a time during the record-setting cold winter of 1944 when German troops launched a counterattack against advancing Allied forces. Taking advantage of blizzards that robbed the Allies of air superiority, two of Hitler’s armies struck the U.S. First Army along the Ardenne Forest of Luxembourg and Belgium in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
“Patton’s Prayer” is a significant story about that general and battle.
It was a telephone call — “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.” — that prompted Col. (Monsignor) James H. O’Neill, the Third Army’s chief chaplain, to pen the “Patton Prayer.”
In response, O’Neill wrote on Dec. 8, 1944:
“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. Amen.”
O’Neill said that after reading the prayer, Patton said, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”
The prayer cards, which included a note from Patton wishing each of his soldiers a Merry Christmas, were prepared for distribution to troops by Dec. 12-14.
On Dec. 16, 1944, the German Fifth and Sixth Panzer armies crept out of the Schnee Eifel Forest under cover of heavy rains, thick fogs, snow and swirling ground mists that muffled sound, blotted out the sun and reduced visibility to a few yards.
Without aerial reconnaissance or close support, Patton’s troops ceased their eastern advance and raced northward to relieve the reeling remnants of the First Army that had slowed the German advance.
Patton later claimed that the prayer that called for divine power to help “crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations” was answered Dec. 20. That day, clouds rolled away, ushering in a week of near-perfect flying weather.
By the thousands, Allied fighters and bombers attacked again and again; spotter aircraft directed artillery, armor and infantry in a counterattack; and transport planes delivered supplies and brought fresh paratroopers to the battlefield.
In a government document published in 1950, O’Neill wrote, “General Patton prayed for fair weather for Battle. He got it.
“It was late in January of 1945 when I saw the Army Commander again. This was in the city of Luxembourg. He stood directly in front of me, smiled: ‘Well, Padre, our prayers worked. I knew they would.’ Then he cracked me on the side of my steel helmet with his riding crop. That was his way of saying, ‘Well done.’”
McKeever said orders for cards from across the United States, Canada, Australia and France were being filled last week. The first shipment of this year’s card have been delivered to Patton’s grandson, Pat Waters, and he has termed them “well done,” she added.
Sharing the message
Cards, with envelopes, are priced at $5 for a single card, $20 for 12 cards, $30 for 20 cards, $50 for 50 cards and $80 for 100 cards. All proceeds benefit the nonprofit 6th Cavalry Museum. Cards can be purchased online at www.6thcavalrymuseum.com, by calling 706-861-2860 or visiting the museum at 6 Barnhardt Circle in Fort Oglethorpe.