There are some names that immediately come to mind when you think about United States history and others when you consider the military definition of “badass.” And then there are those who epitomize both. Whether you’re a history buff, a military aficionado, or you just know your badasses, one name in particular should ring more than a few bells: General George S. Patton. There’s simply no complete accounting of military badasses without Patton, and with that in mind we’re going to delve into the life and actions – and some rather awesome quotes – from the famous general. Who’s ready to take a closer look at the life of the man known as “Old Blood and Guts”?
“A man must know his destiny. If he does not recognize it, then he is lost. By this I mean, once, twice, or at the very most, three times, fate will reach out and tap a man on the shoulder. If he has the imagination, he will turn around and fate will point out to him what fork in the road he should take. If he has the guts, he will take it.” General George Patton
Patton was born on November 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, California, into a family with what can only be called an impressive tradition of military service. As a child he heard endless stories of his ancestors’ bravery in the Civil War and the American Revolution, so it really came as no surprise when he decided to follow in their booted footsteps. In 1904, he enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute which is now the oldest state military school in the country. Attendance at VMI means living day-to-day in an incredibly spartan environment while tackling a number of physically and mentally demanding tasks; basically it’s not a place for the faint of heart or those not serious about their careers. Of course, that’s probably what the young Patton enjoyed about it, after all what better place to train to become one of the biggest names in military badassitude than a college known for its own hard-core butt-kicking courses?
Eventually Patton wrapped things up at VMI and finished up his college career at West Point, graduating from the storied halls on June 11, 1909. Once he was out of college, he married his childhood friend Beatrice Ayer and took on what was apparently the only logical next step: the Olympics. He competed at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in the Pentathlon, proving his talent in fencing and winning fifth place overall. From there he was assigned to the Mounted Service School in Kansas and placed in the post of Master of the Sword, where he continued to hone his fencing skills (lesser-known fact: Patton was the first US Army soldier to ever be awarded the title of Master of the Sword). In fact, his sword skills excelled to the point that a sword was designed just for him. That sword was the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber, also known as the Patton Saber, and was a double-edged blade meant for light cavalry use. It was also the last saber ever issued to our cavalry due to the fact that the nature of war was changing, and fencing was about to become a thing of the past from a military standpoint.
It was 1915 when Patton was supposed to be shipped out to the Philippines with the 15th Cavalry, but he had his own ideas about where he wanted his career to go, so he took a trip to Washington, D.C., and visited a few friends in high places with the hope of changing his career direction. His requests were successful and he was reassigned to the 8th Cavalry at Fort Bliss. Patton was assigned to John “Black Jack” Pershing – and if you don’t know who Pershing is, well, you might want to consider doing a quick search to read about his rather infamous military endeavors – and the two men apparently got along well. Patton was duly impressed by Pershing and proceeded to model some of his own methods after him – specifically Pershing’s driven, forceful manner and unbending insistence to command from the front. And then it was time for Patton to make his first mark on military history in the battle against Pancho Villa.
Pancho Villa, whose full name was Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, was a Mexican revolutionary whose brutal attacks in Mexico gained the ire of the United States on more than one occasion. On January 11, 1916, a vicious attack took place against a group of 16 Americans who worked for the American Smelting and Refining Company. The group of Americans was traveling on a train, and as it passed by San Isabel, Chihuahua, Villa’s men dragged them off the train, stripped them, and murdered them all. But it was actually the attack on the town of Columbus, New Mexico, that finally pushed the U.S. over the edge and brought down the full force of the U.S. military against them. While the people of Columbus slept, Villa and his men waited for the right opportunity on their side of the border, waiting in Mexico until the last minute, then charging into town at 4 in the morning. They proceeded to loot the town, burning down houses and attacking the citizens who attempted to defend their homes, and were finally beat back by the 330-man 13th Cavalry detachment. After that attack, the hunt for Pancho Villa was on, and Patton was a part of that hunt.
“War is simple, direct, and ruthless.” General George Patton
Patton was assigned to the 13th Cavalry’s Troop C and set on the trail of Pancho Villa. On May 14, 1916, Patton and his men were carrying out two missions: hunting systematically for Villa and his men and simultaneously looking for some corn for their horses. One stop along their way was the San Migeulito Ranch. Arriving in three cars with ten American troops and a pair of civilian guides, Patton began the careful search of the ranch, and it didn’t take long for Julio Cardenas, who was one of Villa’s captains, to attempt to flee along with two other high-up members of Villa’s group. Cardenas and his men tried to escape on horseback and were quickly cut off by the Americans, so they did the only logical thing: they started shooting. In the skirmish that followed an untold number of shots were fired, and at some point, Patton shot one of the horses out from under his rider. When the lead stopped flying Cardenas and the other two men were dead; legend says Patton is the one who shot Cardenas, but all three bodies had been shot numerous times and there’s no telling who did away with who. There is, however, ample evidence of what happened next. It’s also worth noting from a historical perspective that when Patton and his men cut off the Mexicans by using their three cars, they were taking part in the very first military action with the use of motorized vehicles. You have to give Patton his: the man had a style all his own, style and cojones the size of dinner plates.
“Do everything you ask of those you command.” General George Patton
Now that Patton had made his mark it was time for World War I, and, seeing the makings of a greater leader right under his nose, Pershing decided to assign him to the brand new U.S. Tank Corps. Patton was the first officer assigned and distinguished himself immediately as a brilliant tactician and an expert in the field of tank warfare. He didn’t pull any punches, and he didn’t try to hide his presence, either; Patton rode atop and walked alongside the tanks as they went into battle time and again, fighting right alongside his men (Don’t believe me? Check your history books. Patton walked in front of the tanks when he and his men assaulted the German-held town of Essey and also rode on top of a tank during the invasion of Pannes, all because he wanted to inspire his men.). He also gave the order that no tank ever be surrendered. And if you’re looking for proof he was tougher than old boot leather, here it is: on September 26, 1918, Patton’s brigade took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, during which he led his men personally at the head of the tanks through thick fog. As he walked ahead of a team of six soldiers he was shot in the thigh by a German machine gun, and in the moments that followed he probably would have bled to death if not for the life-saving actions of his orderly, PFC Joe Angelo (Angelo was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions). Patton couldn’t be stopped, though, and spent the next hour giving orders and directing the battle from a shell hole. And even when he was finally evacuated he refused to be taken directly to the hospital, first stopping at the rear command post to make sure his report was properly submitted. And you just know he raised hell in the hospital until they finally threw their hands up in the air and let him get back to his men. Patton was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership of the approximately 350 tanks in battle and the Purple Heart for his combat injuries once the award was created years later.
Patton was known for his gruff demeanor and sometimes callous nature, and, in fact, those very things may have led to his being used as a decoy of sorts on D-Day. In 1943 Patton was in an Italian field hospital speaking to one of his men who claimed to be shell-shocked, and the discussion went poorly. Although the realities of PTSD are well known – and it was commonly referred to as “shell shock” during World War II – it is also true there have been cases of it being faked. On that day, Patton felt his soldier was faking or, at the least, wildly exaggerating his problems, and he dealt with it by slapping him. According to some, it was that publicly-delivered slaps that landed him in the role he played during D-Day. On record is the fact Patton was reprimanded by General Eisenhower and forced to apologize.
Due to his reputation as a phenomenal commander and stellar tactician, it was only logical the Nazis would believe he would be the one to head up on invasion. Knowing assumptions would be made, Patton was put in charge of a fake army, complete with inflatable Sherman tanks and plywood planes. This diversion was known as Operation Fortitude and was actually quite brilliant in its execution; D-Day was a military chess game, and each and every piece played a vital role in its ultimate success. It was so successful the Germans spent some time watching the locations of the false invasion for signs of Patton’s approach, such was their fear of the threat of an attack at his hand. His reputation preceded him both within and without our military, and for good reason: Patton was a force to be reckoned with, whether friend or foe.
“May God have mercy upon His enemies, because I won’t.” General George Patton
Despite his impressive combat record up to that point, Patton made his truly indelible mark on military history during his command of the U.S. Third Army. His command began during the Normandy Campaign, which began on D-Day, and involved taking France back from the Germans. Patton knew the Allies’ best chance of success wasn’t to out-muscle the Germans but to out-think them, so he utilized his men’s speed and mobility, using his understanding of tactics to out-maneuver the Nazis time and again. Once his men had the enemy surrounded they could effectively carry out an in-your-face assault, and they did, effectively crushing the Nazis. In the course of ten days Patton and his men had crossed the Rhine and taken 10,000 square miles of enemy territory. If that’s not impressive, we don’t know what is. The crippling effect was substantial and Patton can rightfully be given a substantial portion of the credit for the Allies ultimate win against Nazi Germany.
General Patton was killed in a car accident in December of 1945 outside Mannheim, Germany. Although his neck was broken in the crash, he hung on tenaciously, passing away 12 days later in the hospital. He was a ferocious fighter, and his no-holds-barred approach did not always make him the most popular man among the troops, but it did mean he was respected. And when it comes right down to it, who would you rather go into battle with, a man who is personable and widely liked or a man with rough edges who may be disliked but is more likely to keep you alive in the long run?
Patton was an American Hero of a generation past, one we are unlikely to see ever again. His skill and abilities as a leader cannot be denied, and without him the outcome of World War II may have been different. He not only stood with his men, he stood in front of them, and that can be said of only a rare few. He was a real man, a real soldier, and a real American Hero, and it is men like him we have to thank for our many freedoms remaining in place over the years. Next time you think of Patton, think of the man atop the tank, leading his men. Think of a true leader, and be impressed. Be grateful. I know I am.
Author’s Note: Coming soon, a visit (complete with photographs) to the Patton Museum.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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