What can be said about Patton that has not already been said? I have just finished a book that is partially about him called Full Duty. And there are some new things in it about Patton as told to me by his HQ Commandant who was my first cousin. (In the photo below a statue of Patton stands in the garden behind his home church in San Gabriel, California.)
I do not do psychological analyses, partially because I am unqualified but also because I think they are worthless. But I did make observations about Patton based on what I heard from army officers before WWII as they sat around our dinner table and shared the latest war information.
First of all, it is important to know that this great American hero was too old for WWII. Most officers his age (he was about 54) were retired or given desk jobs. Patton was driven to excel because he knew a desk job might happen to him at any moment, and he was a man who had prepared for this war moment all his life.
Before the war began, General George Marshall became chief of staff. He remembered from WWI what Patton had done with armored warfare. Patton was the only man in the army who knew how to get tanks off railroad cars, how to drive them and how to keep the finicky things in operation. Marshall also recalled what an aggressive, fierce fighter Patton was.
So Marshall saved Patton from oblivion at a post in an obscure fort in Texas and gave him a plum job at a grand fort near Washington, DC. That move sent a wave of shock throughout the U.S. Army and told them that Col. Patton was a man to watch.
Marshall let General Eisenhower (who had never led even a platoon into battle) handle Patton up to a point, but Marshall never took his hand from Patton’s shoulder, no matter how angry Eisenhower was at Patton.
Patton was famous for saying, “We don’t dig in. We let the enemy dig in. We attack.” For his audacity, Patton earned his reputation with the German enemy, who were more afraid of him than any other Allied General. Patton appears to have taken far fewer casualties than any other general.
Americans have produced many great American generals, but Patton must rank at or near the top of the heap in all categories for all time.
A deeply religious man (who swore a great deal), Patton was also a deeply patriotic man. His enthusiasm for defeating America’s enemies was unbounded. He also saw clearly what the Russians were up to and he knew how easy it would be to defeat them. Yet, the Communist-riddled State Department would not support him when he volunteered plans that would have avoided the forty-five year-long Cold War.
As the fighting in Europe wound down Patton was pleading for an assignment in China to fight the Japanese under another General (he could not get along with the alternative General McArthur). But his bosses said, “George you are too old,” and they meant it.
At the end of the war in Europe a silly automobile accident incapacitated Patton. He was paralyzed from the neck down. But no one knew if the paralysis were permanent because a blood clot killed him. He is buried in Luxembourg with his troops and is considered by the citizens as a liberator.
George Smith Patton, Jr. was a man’s man, a person many dainty Americans of today would not appreciate. He was a leader of men, not boys and a fierce warrior who lived with fear every day and who forged on every day in spite of his fears. There are few who can measure up to him.