By Bill Federer
During World War I, the thousands to American soldiers heading to France and Belgium were given pocket Bibles with the forward written by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917: “The Bible is the Word of Life. I beg that you will read it and find this out for yourselves, – read, not little snatches here and there, but long passages that will really be the road to the heart of it. You will find it full of real men and women not only, but also of the things you have wondered about and been troubled about all your life, as men have been always; and the more you read the more it will become plain to you what things are worth while and what are not, what things make men happy, – loyalty, right dealing, speaking the truth, readiness to give everything for what they think their duty, and, most of all, the wish that they may have the approval of the Christ, who gave everything for them, – and the things that are guaranteed to make men unhappy, – selfishness, cowardice, greed, and everything that is low and mean. When you have read the Bible you will know it is the Word of God, because you will have found in it the key to your own heart, your own happiness, and your own duty. – (signed) Woodrow Wilson.”
General John J. Pershing also wrote a preface of the New Testament & Book of Psalms, Aug. 10, 1917, which was given to soldiers: “To the American Soldier aroused against a nation waging war in violation of all Christian principles. Our people are fighting in the cause of Liberty. Hardships will be your lot, but trust in God will give you comfort; temptation will befall you, but the teachings of our Savior will give you strength. Let your valor as a soldier and your conduct as a man be an inspiration to your comrades and an honor to your country. – (signed) Pershing, Comdg.”
Also in 1917, the New York Bible Society had Theodore Roosevelt write a message which was inscribed in a pocket New Testament & Book of Psalms given to World War I soldiers: “The teachings of the New Testament are foreshadowed in Micah’s verse (Micah vi. 8): ‘What more does the Lord require of thee than to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ Do justice; and therefore fight valiantly against the armies of Germany and Turkey, for these nations in this crisis stand for the reign of Moloch and Beelzebub on this earth. Love mercy; treat prisoners well, succor the wounded, treat every woman as if she was your sister, care for the little children, and be tender to the old and helpless. Walk humbly; You will do so if you study the life and teachings of the Saviour. May the God of justice and mercy have you in His keeping. – (signed) Theodore Roosevelt.”
On Jan. 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote the prologue of a special Gideons’ edition of the New Testament & Book of Psalms distributed to millions of World War II soldiers: “As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul. – (signed) Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
As noted in the book “Endowed by Their Creator: A Collection of Historic American Military Prayers: 1774-Present,” compiled by Col. Ron Ray USMC (retired), General George C. Marshall stated: “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 on and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end.”
During England’s Civil War, in 1643, Oliver Cromwell gave out “The Soldier’s Pocket-Bible.” The American Bible Society, founded in 1816, supplied Bibles to sailors on the frigate USS John Adams in 1817. During America’s Civil War, the American Bible Society gave Bibles to both sides, as did the Protestant Episcopal Church which distributed Army and Navy Prayer books. The American Bible Society gave Bibles to Pony Express riders.
“A Soldier’s Prayer Book,” 1861, contained the prayers: “Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
In 1917, the Army and Navy Service Book contained: “Almighty and Merciful God and Father, we humbly beseech Thee to visit all those who have forsaken the Christian faith and to reveal unto them their error, so that they may receive the Truth of Thy Holy Word, and walk in the Way that leadeth unto eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”
The Army and Navy Service Book in 1948 contained: “We beseech Thee, O God, for all prisoners and captives, and all who suffer from oppression, that Thou will manifest thy mercy toward them, and make the heart of man merciful as thine own; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Y.M.C.A, as well as Catholic and Jewish organizations printed and distributed Prayer Books to U.S. soldiers and sailors.
During World War II, the Allied Commander in Italy, General Mark W. Clark, composed the prayer: “O God, who knowest the duties that be ahead of us, and the weaknesses that easily beset us, prepare us for the unknown immediately before us. We do not pray for immunity from risks; we pray for courage to face risks. We do not ask to be spared from danger; we ask for strength to face danger resolutely. Grant that we may be able to finish that which Thou hast granted us the wish to begin; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
In 2012, the Museum of Biblical Art in New York had an exhibition, “Finding Comfort in Difficult Times: A Selection of Soldiers’ Bibles.” This exhibit showcased three dozen copies of Scriptures, published by the American Bible Society for the U.S. Armed Forces from the Civil War to the present, from pocket size leather-bound to camouflaged.
The American Bible Society had many famous Americans serve as its president and vice president, including:
- First Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay
- Continental Congress members Richard Varick and Elias Boudinot
- U.S. Presidents John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison.
Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star Spangled Banner,” supported the American Bible Society, as did Abraham Lincoln.
A Joint Resolution of the 97th U.S. Congress proclaimed a “Year of the Bible,” signed by Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil and Republican President of the Senate Strom Thurmond.
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On Oct. 4, 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed the Bill making 1983 the “Year of the Bible”: “Now, therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, in recognition of the contributions and influence of the Bible on our Republic and our people, do hereby proclaim 1983 the Year of the Bible in the United States. I encourage all citizens, each in his or her own way, to reexamine and rediscover its priceless and timeless message.”
On Feb. 22, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed Joint Resolution 164 declaring 1990 the International Year of Bible Reading: “Among the great books produced throughout the history of mankind, the Bible has been prized above all others. … The Bible has had a critical impact upon the development of Western civilization. … It was a biblical view of man – one affirming the dignity and worth of the human person, made in the image of our Creator – that inspired the principles upon which the United States is founded. … The historic speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., provide compelling evidence of the role Scripture played in shaping the struggle against slavery and discrimination. … We recall the words of the prophet Isaiah, who declared, ‘The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever.’ … When you have read the Bible you will know that it is the Word of God. …
“Now, therefore, I, George Bush, president of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the year 1990 as the International Year of Bible Reading. I invite all Americans to discover the great inspiration and knowledge that can be obtained through thoughtful reading of the Bible.”
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