Patton, George S.
George Smith Patton, Jr., was born Nov. 11, 1885 in San Gabriel, CA. He was tutored at home until he was 11, and had trouble learning to read and write, but became an avid reader, particularly of military history. He also loved horseback riding.
Patton started college at the Virginia Military Institute but left after a year when he got an appointment to the United States Military Academy. He had to repeat his first year there when he failed math. Patton graduated from the Military Academy in 1909 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Patton competed in the modern pentathlon in the 1912 Summer Olympics and finished fifth.
Patton was stationed with the cavalry at Fort Sheridan, IL, and Fort Myer, VA, where he met and served as an aide at social functions for Secretary of War Henry Stimson. He served as Gen. Pershing’s aide during the Pancho Villa expedition in 1916. It was during this time that Patton started wearing the ivory-handled revolvers that he was well-known for.
Patton served in France during World War I when he first got interested in tank warfare. He was wounded in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After the war, he wrote a manual on tank operations where he asserted that tanks should not be used to support Infantry, but as its own fighting force. It was during this time that Patton met Dwight Eisenhower. He attended Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College. In 1932, Patton was ordered by Army Chief of Staff MacArthur to use tear gas and bayonets on the “Bonus Army,” and although he disagreed, he followed orders. While serving in Hawaii in the mid-1930s, Patton wrote a paper which described a surprise attack by the Japanese on Hawaii.
Patton, and his wife, Beatrice, enjoyed outdoor activities of Hawaii. They rode horses (Patton also played polo,) and sailed their schooner “When and If.”
After Hawaii, Patton was again stationed at Fort Myer, where he met Gen. George Marshall. Patton was promoted to brigadier general in 1940, major general in 1941, and lieutenant general in 1943.
He was tasked to plan the Allied invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch. Patton commanded the Seventh U.S. Army during the invasion of Sicily. Patton got in trouble with Gen. Eisenhower after two incidents of Patton slapping soldiers suffering from PTSD. He got in trouble again after making ill-conceived remarks at the opening of a welcome center in England that nearly got him sent back to the states.
During Operation Overlord, Patton led the “Ghost Army” that appeared to be heading to Pas de Calais. He did not get his tanks into combat until later in the summer of 1944. During the Battle of the Bulge, Patton’s troops were directed to relieve the 101st Airborne. After Patton’s troops had crossed into Germany, he organized a task force to liberate the POW camp where his son-in-law was being held. He considered its failure to be the only mistake he made in the war.
After the war, Patton was appointed the military governor of Bavaria. He again made statements that got him in trouble with Eisenhower and was relieved of his position. He was on a pheasant hunting trip in December 1945 when he was severely injured in a car accident. He died several days later and is buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
To find other items that the Marshall Foundation has on George Patton, search “Patton” in the library catalog: https://www.marshallfoundation.org/library/results/
Digitized items in the George C. Marshall archives: