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Chaplain’s Corner: General George S. Patton was a leader in tough times

Known for his brashness, decisiveness and well, profanity, he was very spiritual and religious


General George S. Patton prayed for comfort and guidance in challenging times.

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By Chaplain Phil Reeves

General George “Old Blood and Guts” Patton was one of the most successful generals of World War II – or of any war – during a time of unprecedented global turmoil and anxiety (yes, even more than our time of Covid, I’m afraid).

Known for his brashness, decisiveness and well, profanity, he was ironically very spiritual and religious. He knew how to talk to soldiers, put them at ease and was unafraid to use their language. That was his trademark and style.

But, as historian Michael Keene observed, Patton prayed often. And those prayers “reflected his deep and sincere faith in God. Throughout his life, he prayed daily and attended church almost every Sunday, even in wartime.”

He prayed for comfort and guidance in challenging times, he prayed to win in battle. “No one can live under the awful responsibility that I have without Divine help,” Patton wrote in his diary.

Unlike his memorable boastful self, in prayer, Patton was remarkably humble and unsure. For him, God wasn’t some far-away, cold, judgmental Being, but a friend, someone he could talk to as a mentor and a guide. After every significant achievement, personal or professional, he thanked God. An attitude of gratitude writ large.

Interestingly, his beliefs were wide-ranging. Raised Episcopal, he read both the Muslim Koran and Hindu Bhagavat Gita. He believed in reincarnation – firmly assured that he had not only lived former lives but that in each, he was a soldier. For those who remember the movie, George C. Scott’s famous line “I was here” while visiting the 2,000-year-old Carthaginian battlefield, still gives me a chill.

Inclusive in his outlook, he believed there were many different routes up the divine mountain for believers of goodwill.

For the general, Keene writes, “prayer was a ‘force multiplier’ – when combined with or employed by a combat force, it substantially increases the effectiveness of human efforts and enhances the odds of victory.” It was as important as training, leadership, technology, tactics and firepower – all essential in war. In fact, he even sent out a “training letter” to his entire Third Army explaining prayer’s importance.

I share this with you because I love biographies of great people. It’s easy to think, simply because someone was wealthy or famous, that they didn’t have struggles like the rest of us. But when you dig deeper, often nothing could be further from the truth. Many times, the greatest people had the greatest problems! It is not about the challenges they endured, it’s how they overcame them and picked themselves up after each fall.

For me, there’s no doubt that prayer – as you may understand it – is a big part of staying the course when times are tough, especially when it may not feel useful, when it feels like it’s getting you nowhere.

Stick with it! A quiet moment refreshes the spirit in subtle ways; opens the door, even slightly, to hope and joy. A glimpse of the truth – that life and the world are in Good Hands.

“Those who pray,” Patton wrote, “do more for the world than those who fight; and if the world goes from bad to worse, it is because there are more battles than prayers.”

Amen, General, and thank you all for your service!

Your chaplains can suggest prayer practices that may work for you. There is no one-size-fits-all!

Published courtesy of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) Star News “Chaplain’s Notebook”

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