"There are no atheists in foxholes” is a saying that was popularized during World War II in April 1942, as the United States lost Bataan (in the Philippines) to Japanese forces. The Associated Press reported this story of Lieutenant Colonel William J. Clear:
“The officer said that he and a sergeant who shared the same foxhole prayed audibly during one particularly heavy bombing attack. The sergeant, Clear related, observed afterward that ‘there are no atheists in fox-holes.’”
The saying is sometimes attributed to William Thomas Cummings (1903-1945), a priest, but it’s not known that he said this as early as April 1942. The Bataan diary of nurse Ruth Straub was printed in newspapers in September 1942:
“April 6. The Japs dropped more bombs. Shrapnel fell in the wards. One patient was hit while waiting in the chow line...I know there is not an atheist on Bataan. When the bombs come, everyone lies on the ground and prays aloud, regardless of who is around.”
(April 3, 1942 was Good Friday and April 5, 1942 was Easter Sunday—ed.)
“There are no atheists in hell” is an old saying that was frequently cited in the 1800s. World War I had the related sayings “There are no atheists in the trenches of Europe” in 1915 and “There are no atheists in the trenches where those big shells come whirling over” in 1917.
Wikipedia: There are no atheists in foxholes
The statement “There are no atheists in foxholes” is a proverb used to argue that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as in war, all people will believe in, or hope for, a higher power.
The origin of the quotation is uncertain. U. S. Military Chaplain William T. Cummings may have said it in a field sermon during the Battle of Bataan in 1942. Other sources credit Lieutenant Colonel Warren J. Clear, who was also at Bataan, or Lieutenant Colonel William Casey. But the phrase is most often attributed to war correspondent Ernie Pyle. It was also quoted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in remarks broadcast from the White House as part of a February 7, 1954 American Legion Program.
World War II
Bataan featured prominently during World War II. Prior to the 1941 Japanese invasion, the US Army stored nearly 1,000,000 US gallons (3,800 m3) of gasoline there.
Shortly after the Japanese Army invaded the country in December 1941, the combined US and Filipino forces were being gradually overrun and General Douglas MacArthur moved his troops to the Bataan Peninsula in an attempt to hold out until a relief force could be sent from the US. Japanese forces started a siege of the peninsula on January 7, 1942, and launched an all-out assault on April 3, a few months after the Battle of the Points. The majority of the American and Filipino forces surrendered on April 9 and were forced to march more than a 100 kilometres (62 mi) from Bataan to Tarlac, which became known as the Bataan Death March.
The Whole Works of the Rev. W. Bates
By W. Farmer
London: Printed for James Black
It is the most impious; it is formally Deicidium, a killing of God as much as in them lies; but there are no atheists in hell, the devils believe and tremble; ...
The Sermons, and Other Practical Works
By Ralph Erskine
London: Printed for R. Baynes
Now, if once God had unmasked his infinite glory and excellency (for there is no atheist in hell) they will see what infinite excellencies they are deprived the enjoyment of.
30 November 1915, Daily Leader (Grand Rapids, WI), “War and Religion,” pg. 2, col. 2:
C. V. Hibbard, a Y. M. C. A. organizer, just returned from the battle fields of France says, “There are no atheists in the trenches of Europe.”
17 December 1917, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), Trench and Camp, pg. 2, col. 7:
“There are no atheists in the trenches where those big shells come whirling over.”
(Harry Lauder, a Scotch comedian—ed.)
Google News Archive
13 April 1942, Lewiston (ME) Daily Sun, “‘There Are no Atheists in Foxholes’, Bataan Sergeant Observed,” pg. 9, col. 3:
Washington, April 12—AP—An Army officer just returned from Corregidor reported today that living on the Philippine fortress island was “like living in a bull’s eye”.
Lieut. Colonel William J. Clear, an infantry officer who reached the capital by way of Australia, said that since the loss of the Bataan Peninsula Corregidor would be the target of everything the Japanese have.
The officer said that he and a sergeant who shared the same foxhole prayed audibly during one particularly heavy bombing attack. The sergeant, Clear related, observed afterward that “there are no atheists in fox-holes.”
20 June 1942, New York (NY) Times, “Chaplains Praised for Unity of Faith:Congregationalists Are Told of Religions Ending Barriers” (United Press):
He said that the chaplain discovered a “feeling of dependency upon God” and knew “that in the foxholes of Bataan there was no room for atheism.
26 September 1942, Morning World-Herald (Omaha, NE), pg. 8, cols. 2-3:
Sisters of Bataan—
“No Atheists on Bataan”
Army Nurse Tells How the Jap Bombs
Punctuated Easter Services
(Here is another article giving a close-up of life against hopeless odds in the Philippines as told by a United States army nurse who kept a personal diary of her 165 days at Manila, Bataan and Corregidor.)
By Lt. Ruth Straub, A. N. C.
(As told to Marcia Winn.)
April 6. The Japs dropped more bombs. Shrapnel fell in the wards. One patient was hit while waiting in the chow line...I know there is not an atheist on Bataan. When the bombs come, everyone lies on the ground and prays aloud, regardless of who is around.
23 November 1942, Christian Science Monitor, “War and the Bible” (editorial), pg. 20:
Like the report that there were “no atheists in the foxholes of Bataan,” it is as impressive evidence as the increased demand for Bibles.
6 October 1945, New York (NY) Times, “Heroic Chaplain of Bataan Dead: Rev. William Cummings of the Maryknoll Fathers Saw ‘No Atheists in Foxholes’”, pg. 11:
OSSINING, N.Y., Oct. 5—The Rev. William Cummings, the Catholic priest whom the Maryknoll Fathers of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America credited with having coined the phrase “There are no atheists in foxholes” during a field sermon in...Bataan, died of starvation and exposure on a Japanese prison ship early this year, it now definitely has been established, according to word received ...
Famous Phrases, Slogans, and Aphorisms
By Henry Fitzwilliam Woods
New York, NY: Duell, Sloan and Pearce
“There are no atheists in the fox holes.”
William Thomas Cummings (1903- )