General George S Patton is today remembered as a somewhat brash commander from WWII who was so feared by Germany that the Allies were able to successfully use him to dupe their enemy into believing their forces were massing to attack Calais instead of Normandy. He courted controversy with many of his comments and was widely criticised when he slapped a soldier who was suffering from battle fatigue (a second similar incident was not as widely reported)
However, there was more to Patton than this image.
A little known fact about Patton is that he was the first American to compete in the Modern Pentathlon when it was introduced in 1912. He eventually finished 5th from a field of 32, and was the only non Swede in the top seven places.
Patton may well have medalled if not for a controversy in the pistol shooting event, when he placed 20th after the judges decided he must have missed the target completely with one of his shots, despite his claim that it went through the hole of his previous shot.
After the Olympics Patton trained at the French Cavalry School and became the US Army’s youngest ever Master of the Sword at Fort Riley and went on to design the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber, the last saber issued to the US cavalry.
During WWI Patton was asked to establish the Light Tank Training School after gaining experience using French tanks. He soon found a small village called Bourg (near Langres) where he decided to set up his school and as the war was soon to end this episode in his life might be forgotten if not for an encounter 24 years later.
As the US army drove through Bourg in 1944, with Patton leading from the front, he spotted a man in the street and asked him if he was there during the last war. “Oh, yes, General Patton” replied the man, “and you were here then as a Colonel.” He then formed a triumphal procession of all the village armed with pitchforks, scythes, and rakes, and proceeded to rediscover Patton’s old haunts, including his office and his billet in the Chateau of Madame de Vaux.
They also visited the grave of “Abandoned Rear”, which Patton described thus:
The grave of that national hero, “Abandoned Rear,” was still maintained by the natives. It originated in this manner. In 1917, the mayor, who lived in the “new house” at Bourg, bearing the date 1700, came to me, weeping copiously, to say that we had failed to tell him of the death of one of our soldiers. Being unaware of this sad fact, and not liking to admit it to a stranger, I stalled until I found out that no one was dead. However, he insisted that we visit the “grave,” so we went together and found a newly closed latrine pit with the earth properly banked and a stick at one end to which was affixed crosswise a sign saying, “Abandoned Rear.” This the French had taken for a cross. I never told them the truth.
I couldn’t find a photo of the grave of “Abandoned Rear”, but there is still a monument to Patton at Bourg to remind us of his exploits.
After the war ended Patton returned to Germany and while on a day trip to hunt pheasants in the country, the truck in front made a sharp turn which caused his driver to hit the back of the truck at a low speed.
Though neither vehicle were hardly damaged, and everyone else escaped with minor injuries, Patton had been thrown forward from his seat at the back and struck his head on the partition between the front and back seats. The accident caused a cervical spine cord injury and he was rushed to hospital, but a few days later Patton died from a pulmonary embolism.
General Patton is buried with his men in Hamm, Luxembourg.