Ike's Son Remembers George S. Patton Jr.

PrintPrintEmailEmail

He had been deeply hurt by my father’s action, but he classily hid his feelings. With his usual delight in surprising an audience, he got up at the reception and declared, “I have looked at your reports and have been SHOCKED.” Then, after a pause, he finished, “by the excellence of your work.” When we went through the receiving line, he pulled me aside for a few moments of pleasantries.

Patton may have been pleased with the work done by the Theater General Board, but that didn’t prevent him from recasting many reports to the distinct advantage of Third Army. 
He also declared he wanted to go back to the U.S. by the turn of the year. It was not to be. In mid-December he was critically injured in a car accident near Darmstadt, on the 
way to a hunting trip.

For a week, paralyzed from a broken neck, he held on to life in the U.S. Army Hospital at Heidelberg. There were heartening reports of his impish humor. At one point he refused to do something the doctor directed until he was given a shot of whiskey. Mrs. Patton arrived on the scene, outwardly the picture of confidence. “I’ve seen Georgie in these scrapes before,” she assured us, “and he’ll pull out of this one.” But on December 21, General George S. Patton died.

Many of us from Fifteenth Army Headquarters attended the funeral in Heidelberg. In a touching gesture that for me represented the Army as a family, Mrs. Patton sought out every army brat she could find so that on her return home, she could report on our well-being to our parents. General Patton was buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery.

Most of the prominent generals of the Second World War have faded from memory, but Patton’s reputation has grown, in part, no doubt, because of the untimeliness of his death. As with other prominent public figures lost at the height of their power—Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy—his mystique was never dulled by the everyday exposure that eventually relegates most heroes to the commonplace.

Yet there can be no question as to Patton’s prowess as a soldier. Military scholars such as Roger Nye and Martin Blumenson tend to see him as something more than merely an outstanding Army commander. 
Carlo D’Este names his biography of Patton, A Genius for War. Blumenson suggests in his book Battle of the Generals that Patton, not Omar 
Bradley, should have commanded Twelfth Army Group in Europe. 
I disagree on that point, but Blumenson’s judgment illustrates how the Patton mystique has grown.

His reputation has also been enhanced through the efforts of his wife and family. In 1947 Houghton Mifflin published a book carrying his byline titled War as I Knew It, based on his diaries. Around the same time, a bronze statue of the general appeared across the street from the Cadet Library at West Point, much to the surprise of many members of the post garrison.

While Patton’s abilities are unquestioned, it is his flamboyance for which he is perhaps best remembered, as evidenced by the lavish 1970 motion picture bearing his name. The film did not portray the real Patton, but it was great entertainment.

Men who once fumed over the discipline of Ol’ Blood and Guts take pride in their service with him. They have often approached me with a swagger. “In World War II,” they whisper proudly, “I wuz wid George Patton in Europe.”