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American Icons: General George S. Patton

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I still remember the first time I heard the famous speech General George S. Patton gave to the Third Army. Sure, it was George C. Scott’s much cleaner version, but it still changed my life. Beyond delivering such a monumental speech, everything about General Patton himself is iconic; everything about the man is thoroughly American.

Born the scion of one of the most distinguished military families in our nation’s history, Patton was born to be great. Not only was he destined for greatness, he knew it at a young age and made damn sure everyone else knew it too. After doing the usual youthful activities of the time, like hunting and riding horses, Patton left California for his family’s home state, Virginia. In Virginia, while at the Virginia Military Institute, Patton got hazed. Badly. The sadistic fucks at VMI once made him do a bare-bottomed wall sit over a bayonet for hours. As if being hazed as a Rat at VMI and as a KA pledge wasn’t bad enough, Patton then got hazed for another year as a West Point plebe.

Patton moved his way up the ranks of the Corps of Cadets and eventually became the Cadet Sergeant Major for the entire Corps, a position tasked with being the chief disciplinarian (essentially the pledge ed). After graduating, Patton was commissioned into the cavalry and held a variety of posts. In 1916, Patton took place in the Punitive Expedition in Mexico. While there, he personally killed several Mexicans who were lieutenants of Pancho Villa (the bad guy) with his revolvers. Being the great guy that he was, Patton strapped their bodies to the front of his car and drove back into camp for the rest of the unit to see.

When World War I came around, Patton volunteered for the new Tank Corps, seeing it as an excellent opportunity to kill more enemy soldiers, which had become a bit of a hobby for him. After leading and being wounded in one of America’s first tank attacks in history, Patton was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, for running through machine gun fire, riding on top of a tank and walking in front of his tanks, leading them into a German occupied town.

The Great Depression didn’t really bother Patton, seeing as he was considered the wealthiest officer in the Army at the time. The only depressing part about it for Patton was that there were no wars for him to fight. Luckily for him, World War II came around and provided Patton yet another chance to slaughter some of America’s foes. After leading successful operations in North Africa and Italy, Patton was considered one of the Allies’ best generals, so much so that he was used as a decoy during Operation Overlord.

Just like your chapter has had a hazing incident that went public, Patton had a problem with the media too. After visiting a field hospital and decorating some of his troops, Patton slapped a soldier who claimed to have “combat fatigue” or shellshock. While today that is considered (and actually IS) a serious condition, Patton was having none of it. Like a pledge trainer who’s just been cheated on and had too much to drink, and using his uniquely “rich” vocabulary, he tore the soldier a new one, threatening him with a variety of interesting punishments.

In typical fashion, Patton didn’t let the incident set him back. In fact, his signature moment as a military commander came after the incident. For a short time Eisenhower considered keeping Patton out of the rest of the war (hence using him as a decoy), but even Ike knew that Patton was too talented a commander to keep on the sidelines. After the Invasion of Normandy’s initial success, Allied troops became bogged down in the hedgerows of France, engaged in fierce field-to-field fighting with the Germans. It was a dirty street fight of an engagement, and Patton was having none of it. The only “street fight” Patton was interested in having was one that involved him running down his opponent in a tank, then driving to that guy’s house and burning it to the ground.

Patton’s 3rd Army broke out of the hedgerow slugfest and sprinted across France, executing a “blitzkrieg” that even the Germans had to admire. Unfortunately, Patton’s increasingly jealous and frustrating “frenemy,” British General Bernard Montgomery, hijacked Patton’s supplies for the ultimately failed Operation Market Garden and an attempt to take the port of Antwerp. Patton had to stay put, but not for long.

After the German December counteroffensive, now known as The Battle of the Bulge, ripped through the Ardennes, a presumably pissed off and definitely action hungry Patton ordered his subordinates to draw up three separate plans to immediately disengage elements of the 3rd Army from its present heavy fighting on the German border and attack the German forces that had penetrated Allied lines.

At a staff meeting on December 19th, General Eisenhower asked Patton how quickly he could have elements of the 3rd Army ready to fight, specifically to relieve the 101st Airborne Division, which was surrounded in and around the Belgian city of Bastogne. Patton replied, “As soon as you’re through with me.” Eisenhower wasn’t buying it, perhaps because he was being a realist, or maybe because he knew Patton to have an inflated sense of self and ability that would turn out to be not actually inflated at all. Eisenhower ordered Patton to be ready in three days. As soon as Patton left the meeting he contacted his command, saying only two words to them, “Play ball.”

On December 26th, a mere seven days later, Patton’s units reached Bastogne.

Even God respected Patton. Prior to the 3rd Army’s assault towards Bastogne, the weather was miserable, as Europe was experiencing an historically harsh, overcast winter, making it difficult, if not impossible, for Allied air power to operate effectively. This essentially evened the playing field between the Germans and Allies during The Bulge. Patton knew they needed the weather to clear, and was bold enough to ask God for help with, you know, killing people. Patton ordered the 3rd Army chaplain, Colonel James O’Neill, to compose a prayer asking for good weather. The chaplain wrote the prayer as ordered, and wouldn’t you know it, the big guy upstairs gave a tip of the hat to old George and cleared up the skies, presumably because God was getting irritated with how whiny Heaven had become in the last few years. Colonel O’Neill was awarded the Bronze Star literally as soon as the weather cleared.

Sadly, General Patton was killed in a car accident just after the war ended. Despite his untimely death, his legacy lives on as he has inspired soldiers, and pledge educators, across the country for over half a century.

Here are a few quotes from the General that may make you feel slightly more patriotic and/or tight-pantsed:

“Americans play to win at all times. I wouldn’t give a hoot and hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor ever lose a war.”

“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.”

“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”


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