Patton's Secret: "I Am Going to Resign From the Army."

by Robert S. Allen

(Robert S. Allen, a cavalry officer with service in the Regular Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve, was General Patton's chief of combat intelligence. He was promoted to colonel on General Patton's recommendation and was twice personally decorated by him. He originated the book, Washington Merry-Go-Round (1931), and the subsequent daily column of the same name, and wrote Lucky Forward, a best-seller history of the Third Army, commanded by Patton. Colonel Allen was co-author of the daily syndicated column, "Inside Washington.")

Before he was fatally injured in an auto crash, General George S. Patton had decided to dramatically resign from the Army with a characteristically spectacular statement that be was taking this unusual step, "to be free to live my own way of life."

This plan of the famed World War II combat commander can now be told for the first time, more than 25 years after his tragic death.

As a 61-year-old West Pointer with more than 30 years of active service, including command of his country's first tank force in World War I, Patton was eligible to retire as a four-star general. As a retired officer, he would have continued to be subject to military discipline and control.

So Patton had privately made up his mind to cut all ties with the Army by resigning as a resounding rebuke to superiors for relieving him of command of his beloved Third Army because of an outspoken comment in reply to a provocative question at a press conference.

Independently wealthy, Patton was in a position to give vent to his outraged hurt and frustration with such a gesture. So, with typical spirited forcefulness, he was determined to resign rather than retire.

Bringing this poignant story to light at this time, after a quarter of a century, is impelled by a recent rumor that there was something sinister about Patton's fatal accident. These accounts vary, in minor ways, but all are similar in two key respects: They are devoid of details or particulars regarding the nature and purpose of the reputed mystery; at the same time, the inference is pronounced that in some manner Patton was the victim of a dastardly plot to kill him.

The stories are wholly untrue, They are entirely without foundation or a scintilla of evidence in the emphatic opinion of those closest and dearest to Patton. These include his late wife, who was with him throughout the 12 days he fought a losing struggle for life; his long-time chief of staff and close, friend, Lt. General Hobart R. Gay, who was with him at file time of the accident; Patton's two surviving children, Brig. General George S. Patton Jr., Assistant Commandant of the Armor School, and Ruth Ellen Totten, widow of an artillery brigadier. Also, Horace L. Woodring, driver of Patton's car, and Robert Thompson, driver of the truck into which Patton's sedan crashed.

Just where, how, and why the rumor got started is as baffling as the tale itself. Inquiries about the source invariably bring vague and ambiguous high-level answers, but there is an ironic relation between the fatal accident and Patton's secret decision to throw up his commission by dramatically resigning.

Had he not made up his mind to quit with a reverberating blast of indignation, it is highly unlikely the trip on which the auto accident occurred would have been made. So, the tragic event came to pass as an indirect consequence of his anguished determination to end his glory studded military career by demonstratively resigning rather than routinely retiring.

General Patton was definitely marked for inactivation in a few months.

A month earlier, in November 1945, be had passed his 61st birthday. Shortly before, he bad been summarily removed from command of Third Army--which under his meteoric leadership bad made epic history sweeping across France, smashing Hitler's desperate panzer-powered surprise offensive in the Ardennes, annihilating two German armies in the Palatinate in one week, and then slashing across the Rhine without air or artillery support and racing across Germany for Dresden, until stopped in the Thuringen corridor by Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).

Following Third Army's hard-fought capture of Kassel, western anchor of the Thuringen corridor, Patton was visited by a British general for whom a briefing was staged in Third Army's famed war room. Afterwards, the obviously impressed English visitor asked Patton, "When do you expect to be in Berlin?"

"I can't say. But I can get there in a very short time if permitted."

"General Eisenhower has invited me to dine with him in Berlin after it's taken," boasted the British general.

"That will be very nice," dryly responded Patton. "But one thing is certain: General Eisenhower won't get there unless I get there first--but you don't have to tell him I said that."

When halted on 3 April, to enable U.S. First and Ninth armies to come up on line with the Third, its trip-hammer tank spearheads held positions 20 miles from Leipzig, 30 miles from Dresden, and 10 miles from Czechoslovakia.

At a meeting with General Omar N. Bradley, 12th Army Croup commander, Patton asked, "When do you expect to contact the Russians?"

"That's still uncertain," replied Bradley.

"Just disconnect me with any telephone hookup with SHAEF," urged Patton, "and I'll contact the Russians for you in a few days."

"I'm sure you would," laughed Bradley, but it isn't as simple as that. I wish it were. A lot of high-level politics are involved."

On 17 April, Patton was again given his head and final mission: shift the axis of Third Army's main attack-southeast to gain contact with Soviet forces in the Danube valley, and seize the eastern portion of the so-called "National Redoubt."

That long-reported Nazi stronghold proved to be a myth. Captured documents confirmed that it had been planned, but Patton's crushing victory in the Palatinate, followed by his daring slash across the Rhine and shattering rupture of central Germany, had aborted the Hitler-Himmler scheme to fortify the Alpine region into a last stand bastion.

VE-day found Patton's command post at Regensburg on the Danube, almost in the middle of Third Army's 185-mile front, extending from Karlsbad in Czechoslovakia to the Enns River in central Austria.

The next day, a group of correspondents called on Patton for a press conference. One asked why Third Army had not occupied Prague. Reconnaissance units reached the Czech capital, but bad been withdrawn to Pilsen.

"I'll tell you why we didn't take Prague," said Patton. Tensing, the newsmen readied for a hot story. "We didn't take it," he continued blandly, "because I was ordered not to."

"Who gave that order?"

"Ask SHAEF," smiled Patton. No further questions were asked.

In June 1945, Patton returned to the United States for a series of victory celebrations arranged by the Pentagon. Everywhere be was jubilantly hailed by vast and idolizing throngs.

In Boston, more than 750,000 people jammed the 20-mile parade route roaringly cheering him every foot of the way. Comparable crowds welcomed him in Los Angeles, his home town, Denver, and other cities. He was the hero of the hour and be loved every minute of it.

Everywhere Patton went, he spoke with characteristic pungency and wry humor.

In Boston, Mrs. Patton's home town, be told a jam-packed luncheon that he was "amused at the amount of formality afforded me. That may account for the stuffiness of some generals," he added with a broad grin. "But perhaps as long as I can see the funny side of it, I'll be spared that unhappy affliction."

In Los Angeles, he was asked at a press conference how he was able to get such outstanding competence and devoted loyalty from his staff, "I never tell people how to do things," replied Patton, I tell them what to do but not how. If you give people responsibility, they will surprise you with their ingenuity and reliability. Also I never indulge in the discreditable habit of naming the next superior as the source of adverse criticism while crediting myself with complimentary remarks, Loyalty operates both ways, down as well as up."

A speaker in Denver effusively hailed Patton as one of the greatest generals of all time."

Patton began his brief reply with, "I appreciate the high compliment paid me but, in all frankness, I should tell you that I am really a better poet than a general. Publishers haven't recognized that as yet, but it's the truth, just the same."

Patton eagerly hoped for a command in the Pacific in the contemplated invasion of Japan. But that was turned down by General Douglas MacArthur. Patton's name was on a list of six submitted to MacArthur by the War Department, but although they reputedly were long-time friends, MacArthur rejected Patton--to his deep disappointment.

He returned to Third Amy, which was in charge of administering Bavaria, and dropped out of public sight until 22 September, when he held a requested press conference at his headquarters in Bad Tolz, south of Munich.

That affair was the beginning of the end for Patton--both professionally and personally.

Within a few hours after his meeting with the newsmen, Patton was again in the headlines and once more in hot water with civilian and military superiors. What happened was this: As the conference was closing, a correspondent, who bad never attended a Patton session before and who in several previous questions had evinced an unfriendly attitude, asked why Nazis were being retained in office in Bavaria. The question was obviously loaded, with the evident purpose of causing embarrassment.

General Gay, Patton's able and devoted chief of staff, vigorously shook his head signaling him not to answer. Patton saw Gay's warning, but disregarded it.

"I despise and abhor Nazis and Hitlerism as much as anyone," he said. "My record on that is clear and unchallengeable. It is to be found on battlefields from Morocco to Bad Tolz In supervising the functioning of the Bavarian government, which is my mission, the first thing that happened was that the outs accused the ins of being Nazis. Now, more than half the German people were Nazis and we would be in a hell of a fix if we removed all Nazi party members from office.

"The way I see it, this Nazi question is very much like Democratic and Republican election fight. To get things done in Bavaria, after the virtually complete disorganization and disruption of four years of war, we had to compromise with the devil a little. We had no alternative but to of turn to people who knew what to do and how to do it, So, for the time being we are compromising with the devil to that extent.

"It's regrettable, but a very urgent and vital job has to be done to put this shattered country back on its feet again. We are trying to do that as best we can with the personnel available. That's the whole story.

I don't like Nazis any more than you do. I despise them. In the past three years I did my utmost to kill as many of them as possible. Now we are using them for lack of anyone better until we can get better people."

Patton's explanation was entirely reasonable and realistic. Further, he was doing exactly what was being done by all other U.S., British and French commanders and civilian authorities throughout occupied Germany--with one all-important difference. They were not comparing the Nazi holdovers they were retaining to Democratic and Republican politicians. That was Patton's mortal error.

His indiscreet candor, largely taken out of context, was flashed to the United States in sensational radio and press bulletins. The reaction was instantaneous and vehement. Once again he was in the doghouse. Broadcast commentators fulminated, editorials declaimed indignantly, and bleeding-heart politicos and self-righteous do-gooders ranted and yowled.

The next day, Patton issued a statement expressing regret for the "unfortunate analogy."

At SHAEF, that was deemed insufficient by General Eisenhower. The war over and Patton's battlefield genius no longer in pressing need, Eisenhower had reached the end of his patience, Patton was peremptorily summoned to SHAEF, located in the giant and curiously unbombed I.G. Farben plant on the outskirts of decimated Frankfurt. After a 2-1/2-hour meeting, they emerged stern faced and unsmiling. Neither would say anything. Patton returned to his headquarters, and the next day a number of Nazis in the Bavarian government were abruptly dismissed.

On 5 October, the same fate befell Patton. SHAEF brusquely announced his ouster as Third Army commander and his assignment to command of Fifteenth Army.

Fifteenth was an army in name only, a paper outfit with no troops, no equipment and no mission. Created while the fighting was going on to relieve the combat armies of the onerous responsibility of administering the civilian population behind their lines, Fifteenth Army consisted solely of a small staff quartered at Bad Nauheim, in the interior of Germany. At that time it was keeping itself busy collecting and sorting documents and material for the compiling of histories of the war in the European Theater.

Explicitly ordered to hold no more press conferences, issue no statements, and make no speeches, Patton took the heartbreaking blow in silence. But while outwardly subdued, inwardly he seethed in anguished fury and searing despair.

He was baffled as to just where and how he had erred. He could not understand the reason or the rancorous storm of abuse and castigation. He had done no more than other Allied commanders administering occupied areas! So why pick him? If he was wrong, why weren't they?

Particularly he was cut to the quick by Eisenhower's stinging rebuke in their talk. Patton felt that not only was that wholly uncalled for, but grossly ungrateful and unfair. From Africa to the ETO, he had given Eisenhower the utmost in loyal, unstinting, and peerless service. Eisenhower himself had called him his "greatest ground gainer," and when the Battle of the Bulge erupted it was to Patton that he instantly turned and said, "George, you take charge and fight this one."

Patton did in those bleak and terrifyingly uncertain days and nights in the ferocious cold and snow of the Ardennes. He triumphed resoundingly and then in a quick succession of devastating blows demolished Nazi armies and rule in western, central, and eastern Germany.

Surely simple gratitude alone warranted more than a humiliating verbal spanking in private and degrading condemnation in public. For that reason alone, Patton indignantly felt, he should have been treated with more consideration and appreciation.

To him the whole debasing affair confirmed strongly a suspicion that had long been brewing in his mind that malicious and envious forces in and out of the Army were determinedly bent on destroying him and discrediting his matchless record as a battle commander.

The more he agonized over it, the more he became convinced that his curt dismissal as Third Army commander was not only completely unwarranted and gratuitously unfair, but in intolerable manifestation of the covert conspiracy against him.

He determined to put up with such insufferable indignities no longer. He began to think how best he could strike back and assert himself fully and freely.

While brooding over his course, and future, Patton sorrowfully bade farewell to the officers and men of Third Army headquarters and departed for Bad Nauheim, the command post of Fifteenth Army. To the disconsolate Third Army staff he was too overwrought to say more than a few words, They poignantly summed up the deep emotions of both.

"All good things must come to an end," Patton said haltingly as he looked bleakly at them. "The best thing that has ever come to me is the honor and privilege of having commanded Third Army . . . Good-bye, and God bless you."

The staff of Fifteenth Army tensely awaited Patton's appearance at a meeting be had ordered be held immediately upon his arrival. Under its previous commander, the staff--occupied with administrative and logistic functions--operated in a relaxed manner and tempo. Patton was widely known for his taut discipline and vehement insistence on meticulous attire and unfailing workmanship. So his introductory session was anticipated with foreboding.

This concern became outright alarm when, tight-lipped and grim, he strode into the crowded hall. For a few moments he eyed the staff somberly and critically. Then, abruptly he relaxed and said affably: "There are occasions when I can truthfully say that I am not as much of a son-of-a-bitch as I may think I am. This is one of them."

The relieved staff roared with surprised delight. From then on, it was as wholeheartedly for him as the Third Army staff had been.

At Bad Nauheim, Patton spent the time reading, poring over the voluminous war journal he had accumulated and numerous other writings, sending letters to his beloved wife Beatrice and other members of his family and close friends, and composing a series of articles expounding his views on combat, leadership, tactics, discipline and horsemanship. Assembled under the title War As I Knew It or, Helpful Hints to Hopeful Heroes, the pungent and dynamic expositions were distributed by the War Department to service schools for the instruction of both faculties and students.

He also made short trips to visit old friends in France, Britain, Denmark, and Sweden, where more than 30 years previously he had made a warmly favorable impression as a young cavalry lieutenant representing the United States in the military pentathlon in the Stockholm Olympics.

But all the while Patton continued to fume inwardly over what had befallen him, and to mull over incessantly what his next step should be. These inflamed thoughts and the consuming anger that prompted them never left him.

Finally, one night at dinner, he said to General Gay: "I have given this a great deal of thought. I am going to resign from the Army. Quit outright, not retire. That's the only way I call be free to live my own way of life. That's the only way I can and will live from now on. For the years that are left to me, I am determined to be free to live as I want to and to say what I want to. This has occupied my mind almost completely the last two months, and I am fully convinced this is the only honorable and proper course to take."

Gay, startled and deeply perturbed, pressed Patton, ". . . not to be hasty; don't do anything you might regret later." Particularly, Gay urged Patton to discuss the matter with people close to him. Talk it over with your wife," Gay said. "You owe that to her. Also with Fred Ayer [a brother-in-law whom Patton regarded highly] and Harry Semmes [patent lawyer of Washington, D.C. who was a young officer in Patton's World War I tank brigade and remained close to him through the years]. There are others you ought to talk this over with. These people are part of your life and you don't want to make a decision as momentous as this, and which will affect them as much as it will you, without discussing it with them."

"I haven't the slightest doubt that Beatrice and Fred will see it just as I do, and agree fully with my decision," replied Patton emphatically.

As the days passed, Patton became increasingly tense and restless. He took long drives by himself, and at times nervously paced the floor of his office. At dinner, he said little and went to his quarters early. He smoked more cigars than usual. It was obvious he was undergoing deep and gnawing turmoil.

Early in December, he informed Gay he intended to spend Christmas with Mrs. Patton at their home in Hamilton, Massachusetts, near Boston.

"Admiral Hewitt has invited me to accompany him to the U.S. on his flagship, the Augusta, Patton said. "I'll fly to London on Monday and join him there. When I get home, I am going through with my plan to resign from the Army."

"I'm going to do it with a statement that will be remembered a long time. If it doesn't make big headlines, I'll be surprised. As I told you, I am determined to be free to live my own way of life, and I'm going to make that unforgettably clear."

As Patton talked, it was obvious he was under great emotional strain. His long, slender fingers drummed nervously on the table, and he puffed tensely on his cigar.

Gay, who had become profoundly concerned about the inner torment and agonizing Patton had been going through for weeks, anxiously cast about for something to divert and calm him. Suddenly an idea struck Gay. Striving hard to be nonchalant, he said to the general.

"You haven't done any hunting for quite a while. How about going out tomorrow? They tell me the countryside is overrun with pheasants. With the men away during the war, the birds became very plentiful. You could stand a little relaxation before you take off for home.

"I'll have a car pick up early in the morning and I know exactly where to go for some good shooting. It will do us both a lot of good to tramp around outdoors for a couple of hours. And you can try out that new gun you got a while back. You can see whether it's as good as claimed. It certainly is a beauty, and seemed to handle well."

It was a lucky try. Patton perked up instantly and evinced keen interest.

"You've got something there, Hap," he exclaimed. "Doing a little bird-shooting would be good. You're right. I haven't been out much of late, and before I leave I ought to see how good that gun is and whether my hunting eye is as sharp as it used to be. Yes, let's do it. You arrange to have the car and guns on hand early tomorrow and we'll see how many birds we can bag."

December 9 was typically raw, cold, and gloomily overcast for that part of Germany. Patton's sedan was driven by Horace L. Woodring, a 20-year-old private first class, now living in Union Lake, Michigan. Patton sat on the right side of the rear seat with Gay on his left--as military custom prescribes; the junior always on the left of the senior.

There was some ground haze, but no traffic. The car traveled steadily on the empty highway, stopping as regulations prescribe at a rail crossing. Following is Woodring's account of how the tragic accident occurred near Necker Stadt: "A 2-1/2 ton truck that appeared out of the haze coming towards us suddenly made a left-hand turn to get on a side road leading off the highway. I don't know whether the driver didn't see us or what was the reason for his abrupt swerve. We were going too fast to stop and smashed into the truck. General Patton was thrown forward and his head struck a metal part of the partition between the front and back seats."

Although Patton was obviously severely injured, he did not lose consciousness. He bled considerably, and had difficulty breathing. His first thought was about the others.

"Are you hurt?" be asked Gay.

"Not a bit," Gay replied.

"How about you, Woodring? Patton asked the youthful driver.

"I'm all right, sir," he answered.

"What about the other man?" asked Patton. He was assured he was unhurt. "See that nothing happens to him," Patton told Gay, "it wasn't his fault." Gay nodded.

After a pause, Patton said to Gay, "What a hell of a way to die. I think I'm paralyzed. I can't move my arm. Rub it, will you?"

It was a very different way to die than was envisioned by Patton eight months earlier at the last staff briefing at Third Army headquarters on VE-Day, in a bomb-battered kaserne on the outskirts of Regensburg near the Danube River. Patton had listened intently to the reports of G2, G3, and other sections. Then he rose and in his slightly squeaky voice said quietly: "This will be our last operational briefing in Europe. I hope and pray it will be our privilege to resume these briefings in another theater that still is unfinished business in this war. I know you are as eager to go there as I am. One thing I can promise you. If I go, you will go."

"I say that because the unsurpassed record of this headquarters is your work. It has been a magnificent and historic job from start to finish. You made history in a manner that is an imperishable glory to you and to our country. There probably is no army commander who did less work than I did. You did it all, and the illustrious record of Third Army is due largely to your unstinting and outstanding efforts. I thank you from the depths of my heart for all you have done."

That was all. He stood silent for a few minutes looking at the staff and they at him.

Then he nodded to Chief of Staff Gay and, snapping his fingers at Willie (his homely bull terrier), started for the door at the end of the long war room. As the staff rose to its feet, Patton said, "Keep your seats."

Gay began the day's announcements by stating that starting the following day, Third Army Would discard the steel helmet and wear only the fiber liner. From the doorway Patton broke in, "And make damn sure those liners are painted and smart looking. I don't want any sloppy headgear around here."

Everyone smiled. That was "Georgie" true to form.

As he left the chamber, he turned to the aide by his side and said wistfully, "The best end for an old campaigner is a bullet at the last minute of the last battle."

But that wasn't the way it happened eight months later.

Taken to the 130th Station Hospital at Heidelberg, Patton .vas found to have a fractured neck and other spinal and internal injuries. For a brief period, Patton appeared to be improving and his cast was removed.

But it was an illusionary change. Pneumonia developed, and on 21 December, 12 days after the accident, he began to fail rapidly.

To his wife he whispered, "It's too dark. I mean too late." Several hours later he died.

A special train took Patton's body to Luxembourg for burial in the U.S. military cemetery at Hamm. On Christmas Eve, 1945, in a pouring rain, he was laid to rest among the men who bad fought under him in the Battle of the Bulge.

It was exactly one year to the day that be broke the back of Hitler's surprise panzer offensive by relieving beleaguered Bastogne.

As the casket was lowered a chaplain intoned one of Patton's favorite sayings: "Death is as light as a feather."