Near the end of World War II, the Japanese, facing certain defeat, were in a rush to cover up the brutality of their Prisoner of War (POW) camps. On December 14, 1944, the Japanese burned 141 Allied POWs to death at the Palawan camp. Eleven managed to escape, and their story would set in motion the most important rescue mission in history.
Nearby, at the Cabanatuan camp, the Japanese had decided to kill off more than 500 Allied POWs, who were survivors of the Bataan Death March many of whom were Filipinos. The prisoners were already in bad health, badly emaciated, and among their ranks most had all but given up hope of release. Their mantra was, “No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam, nobody gives a damn.”
Enter the 6th Ranger Battalion, led by Col. Henry Mucci, who was tasked with a most arduous and honorable mission: rescuing the prisoners of Cabanatuan from certain death.
His Rangers were aware that the prisoners at Cabanatuan were marked for execution, and time was of the essence. Making matters worse, they had a number of factors working against them: the terrain left them exposed, the layout and heavy fortification of the camp created a high risk for friendly casualties. The stakes and risks were high, even for the highly trained elite Ranger unit.
Because of the gravity of the mission, Col. Mucci refused to allow any Ranger to participate in the raid unless he had first spent time in prayer. Hampton Sides, in Ghost Soldiers, provides the following account (pp. 28-29, emphasis added):
“One more thing,” Mucci said, “there’ll be no atheists on this trip.” Upon adjourning the meeting, he said he wanted every last one of them to meet with the chaplains and pray on their knees. Services would be held in a half-hour. “I want you to swear an oath before God,” he told them. “Swear that you’ll die fighting rather than let any harm come to those prisoners.”
On January 30, 1945, the 6th Ranger Battalion delivered like no other before or since: the raid on Cabanatuan remains the most successful rescue mission in history: 552 Allies were rescued, while only two prisoners died. Two Rangers died, both due to friendly fire.
Col. Mucci, and his assault commander, Cpt. Robert Prince, understood and gave orders to their men based on this reality: Prayer for Divine Providence, an American cornerstone, is critical to mission success. His orders had solid precedent; General George Washington–a praying General–also commanded his troops based on this fact. Would you like to know more? First Principles Press has chronicled the history of prayer in our Armed Forces, from the Revolutionary War to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, published in one volume, Endowed By Their Creator: A Collection of Historic Military Prayers 1774-Present.
Prayer to the one God is–and always has been–a hallmark of the US military history. The oath that a military officer takes ends with, “so help me God”, conveying the high honor and gravity of an Officer’s Commission. While officers are not required to be Christian, the end of the oath of the officer is a prayer and it provides a sober reminder of the honor and calling of an Officer, as well as his need for Divine Providence.
Sadly, due to a large-scale passive-aggressive war against our Christian foundation by groups that have a specific hatred for all things Christian, what was considered critical to mission success in World War II, and a recognition for victory in the Revolutionary War, is now in danger of banishment from military life.
An officer like Col. Mucci, who received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Cabanatuan during World War II would likely face a Court Martial today. As one of many examples of the current war on Christianity in the military, a few months ago the Air Force Academy dropped “so help me God” from three of their oaths in yet another knee jerk reaction to the lawsuit-filing extremist, Mikey Weinstein. It is no surprise that sexual assaults are on the rise as the military cracks down on the exercise of faith by Christians, driving men and women of faith to leave our military ranks.
Make no mistake: our Christian roots are not just historical relics; they are legally-established factual findings, as our Supreme Court, four different times, has established that America is a Christian nation. This is an attack on the very fabric that makes America exceptional.
At the insistence of small advocacy groups outside the services, the military continues to depart from their first principles and marginalize Christian prayer. The free exercise of religion, particularly by the conservative Christian who has served America well for over 200 years, is in grave danger, and this represents a relentless threat to the very fabric of our Armed Forces.
As Christians, we must continue on in this fight as a united front for, if military leaders like General Washington and Colonel Mucci are right, the survival of our Republic depends on the military success we discover on our knees.