In Memorian

A Speech by

The Honorable Robert P. Patterson

Secretary of War

 

At the Dedication of Patton Hall

Fort Riley, Kansas

April 4, 1946

 

No more fitting place for a memorial to General George S. Patton could be chosen than here at the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas. For George Patton, the soldier, was first and last a cavalryman, steeped in the traditions of the Cavalry. It is only right that his memory should be honored here. He himself would consider this dedication a worthy tribute to any man.

Yet the honors we pay him, and the monuments we erect to him, can be only poor reflections of his place in American history. The memory of the man himself will be enshrined by generations to come as one of the greatest of our soldiers. He had all the traits of military leadership, fortified by intense love of country and high faith in the American soldier. Above and beyond that, he was a military genius who never failed to contrive the greatest victory at the lowest cost.

The brilliance of his record -- his victories in Tunisia, Sicily, France, Belgium and Germany -- should not blind us to the firm foundations on which he built his career. He was a born fighter, yes; but all his years he bent his effort wholeheartedly to perfecting himself as a soldier. He had no use for half--measures. He wrote this a few days before his death: "Anyone in any walk of life who is content with mediocrity is untrue to himself and to American tradition". As he rose from platoon commander to troop commander, all the way to Army Commander, three basic principles guided his life. They were: an unswerving will to master his profession; an unsparing devotion to duty, an unshakable trust in those who served with him. He was true to those principles. As he saw it, he owed it to his country to be true to them.

George Patton was a student to whom no field of knowledge was strange, if he might find in it material to strengthen himself as a soldier. Few men have studied more thoroughly the works of the masters of war, but he did not confine his study to that field. Against any problem that confronted him in combat, he could draw on his vast store of knowledge for help. Yet he was well aware that there is no ready--made solution for any battle problem. And he knew, too, that his fund of knowledge of warfare was not the last word. I recall his telling me, the day before the German surrender, that he continued to learn about war by practicing war.

He would go to any length to get the facts. When he landed on French soil two years ago, no man was better acquainted with the road network over which our Armies would travel. The major and minor roads and their junctions were imprinted on his mind. In addition, he had a clear knowledge of the road system in France in the time of William the Conqueror. He had sought out that information because he knew that those roads of 1944 which still followed the routes of 1044 -- when they had to be passable at all seasons of the year --would be over the easiest terrain and would be least subject to damage by storm or enemy action. But map knowledge and book knowledge were not enough. After his arrival, he tested it with personal reconnaissance under fire, on foot and in observation plane, that several times took him behind the German lines. Because George Patton was resolved to know everything that could be known about the roads over which his soldiers had to travel, he led an Army whose speed in advance stunned the enemy and left us wondering how he did it.

That was his way. He never relaxed in that search for useful knowledge -- knowledge of the kind that might direct his soldiers in their thrust and might be the saving of their lives. It was a vital factor in his military success, although one that has not been generally appreciated.

In devotion to duty, he never flagged. He was unsparing of himself, with his country's cause at stake. Duty in combat, for general as well as for private, means disregard for personal danger; it also means an unlimited capacity for hard work. George Patton's attitude toward both was never in question. He once said "A pint of American sweat saves a gallon of American blood." This was his standard for officers, taken from an order issued by him before the Normandy landing: "Officers are always on duty, and their duty extends to every individual junior to themselves in the US Army."

Wherever his men went, he went too. No weather was so severe, no road so rough, no fire so heavy as to keep him from being at the front every day. He was always the stout--hearted fighting man. He kept in the foreground of his thinking the words of Stonewall Jackson, "Take no counsel of your fears", and he resolutely made those words his rule of behavior.

His battle planning that caught the enemy by surprise so many times was possible because he could rely firmly on those who served with him. He could devote his attention to major problems, knowing that the minor would be efficiently handled. His reliance was firm because he knew his officers and men, trained them to a keen edge, cared for them and rewarded them. In return, from private to general, they gave him outstanding performance. He never tired of declaring that they made his reputation for him.

He knew thousands of them personally and to their dying day they will say with pride, "I rolled with Patton". He found time to stop and talk to groups of soldiers waiting for the order to deploy and go forward. When a division was to be committed to its first combat, be made it a point to assemble the men and talk to them on what lay ahead of them, the situations they would most likely meet, what they could do to solve them. Wherever he might be, any errors or mistakes -- and he had a sharp eye for them -- were corrected on the spot. Achievement, too, was rewarded on the spot, wherever he saw it or as soon as it was reported to him. There was no delay about promotions or decorations where Patton commanded. Training of the men in new methods was constant even in the forward area. The introduction under combat conditions and training of the men in marching fire -- infantry shooting from the shoulder or the hip as they advanced -- developed the full effectiveness of the Garand rifle and made a company of foot soldiers the equivalent of a machine gun unit.

The welfare of the men under him was a matter of personal responsibility. In the heat of combat, he could take time out to direct new methods to prevent trench feet, to see to it that dry socks went forward daily with the rations to troops on the line, to kneel in the mud administering morphine and caring for a wounded soldier until the ambulance came.

His personality was singularly suited to the leadership of combat troops. His picturesque quality appealed to the imagination of his men. They loved to talk about him. They did not call him "Blood and Guts". That was a reporter's invention. To the Third Army he was "Georgie." And to the American soldiers who languished in the German prison camps he was "Georgie" too, and those prisoners had faith that "Georgie" would set them free.

The will to learn, devotion to duty, trust in those who served with him -- these were in George Patton's character. He had, too, a patriotism and belief in his nation's ideals that sustained him. Love of country and its flag, pride in its service, faith in its destiny, confidence in its people -- these gave him his inspiration.

Two months ago I stood before another memorial to General Patton -- a simple cross that marks his grave in a cemetery in Luxembourg. He rests there with 9,000 other American soldiers -- soldiers he believed in and loved. His grave is in one of the long rows, like the other graves there. He is with his soldiers in death as he was in life, and the flag that he revered and marched with flies over them. That is the way he would want it. That is George Patton, and that, when all is said and done, is his greatness as a soldier and as an American.