A Tale of Prayer and Survival – Part 3

Posted by on Nov 15, 2013 in Military Prayer | Comments Off on A Tale of Prayer and Survival – Part 3

In 2001, at the dedication of the Risner memorial at the AirForceAcademy, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent letters of congratulations, calling Risner a role model saying, “Now more than ever, we need to draw on the strength from those who have gone before.”  Yet a short five years after the dedication of Risner’s statue on the Air Force grounds, a continual barrage of gloating media reports revealed the Air Force Academy’s and the U.S. Air Force’s openly hostile position to the prayers of leaders like Risner.  Pitching out the source of the “strength” of Risner and his fellow POW’s, and in spite of the unbroken American history of leader-led unit prayer that reaches back 230 years in our military, the Air Force Academy, the Pentagon, and the White House, are surrendering to provocative attacks by organizations like the ACLU, B’nai B’rith, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Jewish Committee, and their allies, with guidelines which severely limit prayers.  This disregard for the long battle-tested tenet of training and practice for military leadership, which includes prayer, will no doubt, if you ask men “who have gone before” have a “real, not hypothetical, adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline,” for those in the future who will go in harms way.

The value of prayer has been scientifically quantified.  A major sociological study after World War II, confirmed the importance of prayer to those American fighting men who have gone in harms way: “The Studies in Social Psychology in World War II Series,” produced by the Social Science Research Council, was one of the largest social science research projects in history.  Volume II, The American Soldier, Combat and Its Aftermath, Princeton University Press, (1949), reported data on the importance of prayer to officers and enlisted infantrymen.  Prayer was selected most frequently as the soldier’s source of combat motivation.  The motivation of prayer was selected over the next highest categories of “thinking that you couldn’t let the other men down,” and “thinking that you had to finish the job in order to get home again.”  From the responses, “did not help at all,” “helped some,” and “helped a lot,” 70% of enlisted men in the Pacific Theatre (n = 4,734), and 83% in the Mediterranean theatre (n = 1,766) responded “helped a lot,” as did 60% of Infantry officers (n = 319).  Prayer was the most frequently cited combat motivator “when the going was tough.”  The majority of over 6,400 soldiers in both the Mediterranean and Pacific theatres responded that prayer “helped them a lot.”  In their statistical analysis, the Social Science Research Council reports,

[T]he fact that such an overwhelming majority of combat men said that prayer helped them a lot certainly means that they almost universally had recourse to prayer and probably found relief, distraction, or consolation in the process.[1] 

Virtue, honor, patriotism and leader-led prayer recall to all military and civilian leaders that, as John Adams said,

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” 

Washington Times

Military units and personnel are being denied the essential training in leader-led unit prayer that will only be able to sustain them under the extreme challenges, deprivation, and death that accompany war.  This is not the time to leave our fighting forces on the battlefield “without a prayer.”

Colonel Risner’s stand joined by other POWs against the North Vietnamese anti-prayer policy in 1971 caused them to be held in punishment and separate from other POWs until a few days before their final release.  Risner’s memorial at the Air Force Academy stands like a mountain against all attempts to suppress prayer, and honors the American Military’s First Principles that sustain those called upon to go for us.  Untested political experiments in wartime jeopardize the strength of future military leaders, who will someday need to draw upon “faith,” the same strength that sustained a courageous Command leadership through seven years at the Hanoi Hilton.  The attempts to suppress prayer by the Air Force – especially in officer training – should be resisted with the same determination and force of will exemplified by Col. Risner and the other POWs in the prison system of communist North Vietnam, no matter what it may cost us.


[1] Social Science Research Council.  The American Soldier, Combat and Its Aftermath.   PrincetonUniversity Press, (1949), at 185.

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