Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hail to the General

Magnet # 90: Patton Museum, Fort Knox, Kentucky

Material: Ceramic

Purchased By: Me

Well, we're going from one end of the spectrum to the other on birthdays. George S. Patton III was born on this day in 1885. I guess you can say both he and Neil Gaiman are hardworking, decicated, and celebrated men, but I'm not sure if they have much else in common.

Patton came from a distinguised line of soldiers that went back as far the Revolutionary War and included a Governor of Viginia. Early on, he was entralled by the stories his father told about his friend, John Singleton Mosby, a well-known cavalry leader for the Confederacy. Before long, he had decided he wanted to become a general when he grew up. To that end, he attended West Point, and, surprisingly, he even competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, where he finished fifth overall. His best peformance was as an equestrian and he did some fine pistol shooting, but there was a controversy that cost him in that competition. But because of his performance there, Patton gained a certain degree of respect. When he later participated in the first armored vehicle attack ever against Pancho Villa's men, killing two of his leaders, he gained fame throughout the United States. He rose through the ranks during World War I, narrowly surviving one battle when he was wounded and another soldier saved him. They were the only survivors. When the war was over, Patton continued to write articles to further his career. He met Dwight D. Eisenhower during this time, and was even assigned to Hawaii, where he was in charge of the islands' defences. And yes, he developed plans for a possible air raid on Pearl Harbor more than ten years before the Japanese attack there.

When the United States entered World War II Patton, by then a Major General, first led troops in North Africa. He was known for implementing strict discipline on his men, even fining them when they fell short. But it did help them to survive. Patton soon became Lieutenant General and led an invasion of Sicily. He and his men liberated the city, but a personal mistake on Patton's part almost ended his career when he slapped a wounder soldier in a hospital. The man was suffering from shell shock, and Patton was unable to tolerate what he deemed to be cowardice. When a reporter revealed this incident to the entire nation, Eisenhower stripped him of his command, but kept him in Europe for tactical reasons. By this time, the Nazis were well aware of Patton and thought he would lead the troops in a full-scale invasion against them. He did not participate in D-Day at Normandy, but misled German intelligence into thinking it would occur at Calais. Patton was able to regain command after D-Day, eventually helping the Allies win the Battle of the Bulge, where he was given the nickname he hated: "Ol' Blood an' Guts." When the war was finally over, Patton had unknowningly had little time to enjoy his success. He was able to attend a Los Angeles parade in his honor and secretly donate an original copy of the Nuremburg Laws to the Huntington Library, but before the year was up, the General died of injuries from a car accident. Per his wishes, he was buried with his men at Luxomberg.

Nowadays, Patton's image has been shaped to a certain degree by the 1970 film about him (which I never have seen). He is portrayed as a tough General who indulged in profanities and demanded perfectionism. He was unable to take jokes about himself, and created a distinctive image, wearing high cavalry boots, a polished helmet, and carrying ivory handled, nickel-plated revolvers, all in the interest of impressing his men and their enemies. But Patton is not as harsh as some might portray him. He only fired one general during the entire war, a tiny number compared to some commanders. One fact some may not realize about Patton is that he was repsonsible for saving the Lipizzaner horses, a particularly majestic breed capable of performing elaborate manuevers, even leaping though the air. The General had already taken some of these horses under his protection, and when he learned others were in danger of being slaughered by the Soviet Army, which he hated, he helped evacuate them as well. This "Operation Cowboy" saved 375 Lipizzaners, and over one thousand horses in all. Some think that without Patton's involvement, these horses may have become extinct.

I got this magnet during my trip to Kentucky earlier this year. I wanted one from Fort Knox, and this was the closest I could find. The Patton Museum is in Fort Knox, and it has all sorts of armory and memoribilia from the General, even the car in which he was riding when the notorious accident occurred. We were headed to the airport, so I only got to see the outside and the gift shop, but even that was impressive. There was a tank outside and a helicopter positioned in the air at an angle to make it look like it was flying. And I think this magnet is pretty appropriate for a military museum - it's so utilitarian. I have to think the General himself would approve. Heck, I can even picture him ordering it up:

"Well just take the logo and put it on a square, soldier. Background? What do you need a background for - what's wrong with white! Don't give the text some stupid color - make it black, all caps. And none of that of that serif crap. Well, what are you waiting for? Move, move!"

Okay, maybe not. But it's good to see that Patton's memory lives on in our modern world. He accomplished quite a bit in his sixty years of life, and our military was undeniably shaped by his enthusiasm for armour and tanks. Could we have won World War II without his involvement? Perhaps, but I'm glad we'll never know for certain.


  1. I have admired General Patton and was glad to see you were honoring him on Veterans Day. I have seen the movie "Patton" several times and think you should see it. As Patton might say, 'Go rent it. And that's an order'.

  2. Didn't know that about the Lipizzaners. Learn something every day!

  3. Thank you both - it had completely escaped me that I was typing this up for Veteran's Day.

    As for the movie - "Sir, yes, sir!"