George S. Patton standing in front of a French tank in 1918
General George S. Patton was born in 1885 to a wealthy family in California. From a young age, Patton was well-versed in military history and quickly decided that the life of a soldier was his calling. At the age of five he had his very own pistol. One afternoon he was playing with it at his grandmother’s house and nearly shot off his finger. Thankfully he grew more skilled in weaponry with age.
Besides his love of weapons, Patton was an expert horse rider, which cinched his choice for which branch of military he would join after graduation at West Point: the cavalry. Patton wasn’t even close to being the highest in his class at West Point, but he displayed excellent skills and passion for leadership.
Current events were relatively peaceful when Patton graduated in 1909, and he began to get restless at his post in Illinois. As a result, he began training for the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. He placed fifth in the pentathlon, but that was the end of his athletic pursuits. From then on his focus was strictly military.
After his search for Pancho Villa with General Pershing, Patton turned his eyes to Europe, and in particular, German tanks. To Patton, tanks were the future of cavalry forces and pushed for the United States to keep up with the Germans in tank production and technology. Just as America entered WWI, Patton took a course at a French tank school to prepare himself for the combat that lay ahead.
In 1918, Patton led troops in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and was pleased to be in command over some tanks as well. However, as Patton watched his men’s movement, he saw many of the tanks getting stuck in the mud. Patton walked the two miles to help and remained with his troops through the battle. His efforts granted him another opportunity to lead more troops through France where once again Patton observed that the tanks were getting stuck in trenches. This time the tanks were under heavy fire, and the troops in charge of freeing the tanks were running off, afraid of the enemy shells. Patton confronted the men, grabbed a shovel, and helped them dig out the tanks. “When one soldier complained, Patton struck him over his helmeted head with a shovel,” (George S. Patton: World War II General & Military Innovator by Martin Gitlin, pg. 47). When the tanks were freed, Patton and his men continued to move forward. During combat, Patton suffered a bullet wound through his thigh; he made it a few steps before falling. Joseph T. Angelo, Patton’s orderly, dragged him off the field and bandaged him. Meanwhile, Patton kept giving commands until he was taken to the hospital.
WWI came to an end on Patton’s birthday, November 11, 1918, but it wasn’t much of a present to him. Patton thrived in war time but would have to wait another 25 years to engage in combat again.
In between the wars, Patton was stationed throughout the country and continued his efforts in improving the armory (particularly tanks) and honing his skill for training soldiers. When it came time for combat again, Patton was more than ready. He was in the middle of the action as much as he could be during the invasion of Sicily, D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge. His military philosophy was to always be on the offense, and besides being reprimanded for disobeying orders, the technique worked very well for him.
Although held in high military esteem, Patton was often negatively represented by the media due to misquotes and Patton’s temper that resulted in slapping of soldiers, whom he felt were cowards. But leaders such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley never wanted Patton removed from leadership, although they did request him to apologize for certain actions and issued punishment. They knew that Patton achieved results better and faster than his fellow leaders. One record states that “The advance of Patton’s Army during the first two weeks of August  had been so rapid that the reconstruction of the railroad had been unable to keep pace with him.” The country could not afford to send Patton home; he was just too successful. Patton’s passion got him into trouble plenty of times, but it’s what made him the legendary leader known as “Old Blood and Guts.” In the words of General John J. Pershing, “It didn’t hurt America to have a general so bold that he was dangerous.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, and George S. Patton (left to right) at the front in 1945
At the end of WWII, Patton returned home for a brief time to celebrate with the rest of the country. Then he returned to Germany to serve as an area administrator. The day before he was due to fly back to the United States for Christmas, Patton was paralyzed in a car accident, and he passed away not long afterward on 21 December 1945.
Find more information here, here, and in Fold3′s European Theater Army Records.