Leader-led Prayer: The Example of Major General Francis H. Smith

Posted by on Jun 25, 2012 in Military Prayer | Comments Off on Leader-led Prayer: The Example of Major General Francis H. Smith

On the campus of Virginia Military Institute stands a statue of Major General Francis H. Smith, first Superintendent of VMI, which was unveiled on June 10, 1931.  Thomas W. Davis writing at the VMI Sesquicentennial in 1988 describes the statue of the General:

He is shown in the act of giving a diploma, which is partially unrolled in his right hand; he holds a Bible in his left hand, symbolic of the one he gave to each graduate with a personal inscription.  A graduate of General Smith’s last class, WWI hero, Samuel D. Rockenbach gave a history of Smith’s life…He said that in World War I amidst high casualties in his unit, he remembered that General Smith had written on the flyleaf of his Bible:  ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’  He said it never left his mind that Old Specs was praying for him.[1]

Every officer in training for the American armed forces is encouraged to maintain the highest standard in moral leadership and exemplary character.  Acknowledgement of Divine Providence through unit prayer serves as a strong example to those led, because soldiers are not led into war by strategists, technologists, or academics, but by the “long gray line” of exemplary leaders who have shaped a courageous and moral military ethic.  Military prayers to the Almighty have served to preserve many more soldiers in fox holes than lawyers and judges on benches.
All military training is carried out in preparation for combat.  Soldiers in the remote areas of Afghanistan, or WWII soldiers on submarine duty, 25% of whom never returned from their final mission, did not have a chaplain to lead them in prayer.  Officers trained by the military’s first principles of virtue, honor and patriotism led by example in giving moral support through prayer and example.

It is unfortunate that the hearing to decide on the fate of unit-led prayer could not be heard in an Iraqi foxhole rather than a paneled courtroom that claims to do justice.  It is difficult to comprehend in our present hour of peril the consequences of handing soldiers guns and orders without including the force of virtue.  We are reading the headlines describing the suicide crisis in the military that claims more lives than combat.  General George C. Marshall was right when he said of his troops,

…I look upon the spiritual life of the soldier as even more important than his physical equipment…the soldier’s heart, the soldier’s spirit, the soldier’s soul are everything.  Unless the soldier’s soul sustains him, he cannot be relied upon and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end.  It’s morale, and I mean morale, which wins the victory in the ultimate, and that type of morale can only come out of the religious fervor in his soul.  I count heavily on that type of man and that kind of Army.[2]

For further history of the military necessity of prayer in our American Military, we recommend: “Endowed By Their Creator”:  A Collection of Historic American Military Prayers:  1774-Present.

[1] Thomas W. Davis, Ed.  A Crowd of Honorable Youths:  Historical Essays On The First 150 Years of the Virginia Military Institute.  (Lexington:  VMI Sesquicentennial Committee, 1988) pp. 140-141.

[2] Joint Pub 1-05.  Religious Ministry Support for Joint Operations.  Joint Chiefs of Staff.  26 August 1996, p. II-3.  Cited in Endowed By Their Creator, First Principles Press, p. 4

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