Born on this Day – George Smith Patton, Jr.

George S. Patton, Jr. was born 11 November 1885. Patton is one of the most recognizable names of the last century, whether one is a follower of military history or not. Patton was one of the most complicated and controversial men to wear the uniform. Patton saw action in both World Wars, competed in the 1912 Olympics, designed the last combat sabre, and was very eccentric.

Patton was born in California and descended from career military men. His ancestors saw action in the Revolutionary War, and in the Civil War. Patton originally matriculated to the Virginia Military Institute, but left after one year to enroll at the US Military Academy. Patton had some academic struggles early on, and was required to repeat his plebe year. He was commissioned as a Cavalry officer in 1909.

The 1912 Olympic Games were held in Stockholm, Sweden, and the first ever modern pentathlon was held. A sport consisting of fencing, swimming, an equestrian cross country steeplechase, running, and shooting. Patton finished fifth overall in the competition, but there was some controversy in the shooting event. Patton choose to use a 38 caliber pistol, where most of the competition elected to use smaller 22 calibers. The judges ruled that Patton had missed the target once, while Patton insisted that the bullet had passed through a hole made by a previous shot. The judges ruling was upheld, and Patton did not lodge complaints, nor did he offer excuses.

After the Olympics, Patton toured Europe and sought out the best swordsmen in order to study techniques and practice. Upon his return to the States, he authored a paper on his tactics and research. He was named Master of the Sword, and modernized the Cavalry’s fencing techniques.

Patton was assigned to the 8th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Bliss, Texas, where the mission was to protect the border. Pancho Villa and his men attacked border towns in New Mexico. The violence claimed several American lives, and in response the US sent men into Mexico against Villa. Patton became the personal aide to General ‘Black Jack’ Pershing and was afforded the opportunity to plan and participate in the mission.

As the United States entered the fighting for World War I, he was still a member of Pershing’s staff. He was promoted to captain and Pershing tasked Patton to undertake a Light Tank Training School for the US troops. Becoming an experienced tank driver, saw Patton rise through the ranks, major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel. Near the end of the War, Patton was wounded in the left leg. Hostilities officially came to an end on 11 November 1918, Patton’s 33rd birthday.

World War II brought out the best and worst of Patton. He was the general that the German Wehrmacht feared. A ‘rivalry’ was stoked by others pitting Patton against famed British General Bernard Montgomery. Patton instilled discipline wherever he went, but his undoing came about on 3 August 1943. Patton was touring a hospital following the successful Sicilian campaign. He happened upon Private Charles Kuhl of the 26th Infantry. Kuhl was suffering from battle fatigue. Patton slapped Kuhl with his gloves and forcibly removed Kuhl from the hospital, adding a kick to Kuhl’s backside. The incident was kept quiet for a while, but word soon leaked out. Patton was told to apologize for the incident, and Patton did so, going out of his way to make amends. Many were calling for Patton to be dismissed, but it was never really considered by Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Demands for Patton’s  dismissal were made in Congress and across newspapers. Public sympathy actually backed Patton, and Kuhl’s father wrote to his congressman saying he had forgiven Patton and requested he not be disciplined over the incident.

Patton remained in Europe, but was left without a command. Following Operation Overlord, or the Normandy Invasion, Patton was placed in command of the Third Army. Patton’s Third Army would liberate the northern parts of France, and would achieve one of the most incredible feats at the Battle of the Bulge by moving his men in place in a short amount of time to be able to get to Bastogne,

One of the more interesting sides of Patton unfolded on 21 December 1944. Patton wanted favorable weather for his battle plans. Patton ordered the Third Army chaplain, Colonel James O’Neill, to compose a suitable prayer: “Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen. The weather soon cleared and Patton awarded O’Neill a bronze star on the spot.

Patton was awarded his 4th Star on 14 April 1945, a promotion that had been in the works for sometime to reward Patton for his leadership and accomplishments in late 1944. As the War ended Patton came back to the States and was honored with a parade, along with Jimmy Dolittle. Patton went back to Europe to supervise parts of occupied Germany after the war. Patton was going hunting near Mannheim, Germany, when his driver was involved in a relatively low speed collision. Most everyone involved was unaffected, unfortunately Patton severely injured. His neck was broken and he was paralyzed. He was taken to a hospital where lived for 12 more days.

Patton died on 21 December 1945. He requested to be buried with his men at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg. Patton was disinterred and moved in 1947 to his burial place now at the head of his troops. There is a cenotaph of Patton at his family plot in San Gabriel, California.

Patton believed that he has been and always would be a warrior. He believed that he had been reincarnated to fight in wars time and time again. From the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage to the end of World War II, Patton always believed he was there.

I highly recommend the Carlo D’Este biography called ‘Patton: A genius for war’. This is one of the best books that I have ever read.



3 responses to “Born on this Day – George Smith Patton, Jr.

  1. Great post. They gave a tribute to Patton this morning on CBS Sunday Morning… Also I loved the movie “Patton” its one of those movies that I will stumble on a couple times a year-and just keep watching it even though I’ve seen it a dozen times. That said, it could just as well be called the Omar Bradley Story- Bradley was an advisor for the movie if you couldn’t tell… George C. Scott was excellent as Patton so much so that I think of him as Patton like I think of Ben Kingsley as being Gandhi…..When I cover WWII in my class and I mention Patton he is always already well known by a large number of the 8th grade students I have which impresses me.

  2. thanks. complicated man. i am not sure i could do him justice in 10k words. the theme by jerry goldsmith in that film gets me every time. i agree with the rewatchability. this movie, and the great escape are ones that i cannot turn off.

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