Full name: George Smith Patton, Jr.
Born: November 11, 1885 in San Gabriel, California, United States
Died: December 21, 1945 in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Affiliations: US Army, (USA)
Country: United States
Sport: Modern Pentathlon
George Smith Patton, Jr. was one the greatest military generals ever produced in the United States. Born in San Gabriel, California on 11 November 1885, he was from a wealthy family. He eventually married into more wealth, his wife, Beatrice Ayer, being the daughter of a Massachusetts textile magnate.
After attending school in Pasadena, Patton enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute. From there he went to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated from West Point in 1909, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Efforts to find much about Patton's athletic career have yielded little. At West Point he went out for football, but broke both his arms and never played. He ran on the track team and apparently set a school record in the hurdles in his senior year. He competed in the broadswords at West Point, earning letters in his senior year in track & field, fencing, and sharpshooting (rifle and pistol). He never competed nationally in track & field or in fencing.
In addition to those three sports, Patton was an accomplished horseman. With the family's background he had grown up with horses, and became an well-known polo player. With his ability in running, fencing, shooting, and riding, Patton was a natural to represent the United States in the first Olympic modern pentathlon event at the Stockholm Olympics. Still, almost nothing is known about how he was selected to the team, as he had little national reputation.
After graduation from the USMA, Patton served in the cavalry in Fort Sheridan, Illinois until December 1911. He kept a whole stable of polo ponies with him at his own expense. He was then transferred to Fort Myer, Virginia, where he was stationed when selected for the 1912 Olympic team. There he competed in polo with the elite and wealthy, and Wilson notes that he hobnobbed with the influential and powerful. It is possible that Patton's new circle of friends had some influence in helping him be selected to the 1912 U.S. Olympic team.
At Stockholm, Patton finished fifth in the modern pentathlon. It is also commonly stated that he also competed in fencing at the 1912 Olympics. While he was entered in that sport (in individual épée), there is no evidence that he competed in fencing at the 1912 Olympic Games.
The first event of the 1912 modern pentathlon was shooting, and Patton performed poorly, finishing only 21st. It cost him a chance at a gold medal, as he performed credibly in the last four contests. In swimming, probably the sport at which he had the least experience, he was seventh. He placed fourth in fencing and sixth in cross-country riding. He had moved up to sixth place with only the 4,000 metre run remaining. He did well there, placing third in the run, and moving up to fifth spot. But the deficit he had built for himself in the shooting was too much for him to overcome.
There is no record that George Patton ever again competed in organized sports after the Stockholm Olympics. Thus, he has one of the shortest athletic careers of any well-known American Olympian. His “career,” as it were, consisting mostly of military training while at West Point, and then the 1912 Olympics.
But George Smith Patton was destined for far greater fame than he would achieve on the playing fields. During World War I, he served as a member of General John Pershing's staff. In November 1917 he was assigned to the Tank Corps, and attended a course at the French Tank School. He eventually became known, among many other things, for his brilliance in commanding tanks in battle. Between World Wars, Patton had various assignments in many different locations, as is common with military personnel. But the bulk of his fame rests on his performance as a commanding general during World War II.
On 19 April 1941, Patton was assigned to be the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia. He later became Commanding General of the Armored Corps. When American forces landed in North Africa on 3 November 1942, Patton commanded the units landing on the west coast. In February 1943, he became Commanding General of the Western Task Force and later assumed command all American ground forces in the Tunisian Combat Area.
Patton was given command of the American Seventh Army in Sicily in July 1943. There he led a controversial charge across Sicily, probably disobeying orders from headquarters to only support British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery. In March 1944, he was put in charge of the Third Army in France. Commanding that Army, he was instrumental in helping the Americans win the Battle of the Bulge, when his Army marched over two days and nights through terrible weather, to relieve and support beleaguered American troops that were meeting significant German resistance in Bastogne.
Patton is probably best remembered today in the United States because of an Academy Award-winning movie of his life, entitled simply “Patton.” The movie detailed his controversial command during World War II. Known as “Blood and Guts,” his command style was tyrannical and swashbuckling, and he himself stated that he had no political ambitions, nor acumen. He was known for his attacking style of command, stating many times in his fluent French, “L'attaque, l'attaque, toujours l'attaque.” He was vilified by the American press after the war because he refused to support the Soviets, but in retrospect many of his comments seem to have been prescient.
His awards for his military career were numerous and included the following: Distinguished-Service Cross with one Oak-Leaf Cluster, Distinguished-Service Medal with two Oak-Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Service Medal (Navy), the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, the Congressional Life Saving Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Mexican Service Badge, and the Victory Medal with four stars. He was also awarded the following foreign decorations: Medal Commemorative of the Volymored (Sweden), Order of the British Empire (Great Britain), Most Honorable Order of the Bath (Great Britain), Grand Cross of Ouissan Alaouite (Morocco), Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold with Palm (Belgium), Croix de Guerre (Belgium), Order of Adolphe of Nassau, Grand Croix (Luxembourg), Croix de Guerre (Luxembourg), Order of Kutusov (Soviet Union), and he was given the rank of Commander in the Legion of Honor (France).
After the War ended, Patton was placed in charge of the 15th Army in American-Occupied Germany. Sadly, while in that command he was involved in an automobile accident on the Frankfurt-Mannheim Highway and was rendered a quadriplegic. He died a few weeks later in Heidelberg on 21 December 1945.
|1912 Summer||26||Stockholm||Modern Pentathlon||Men's Individual||United States||USA||5|
|1912 Summer||26||Stockholm||Modern Pentathlon||United States||Final Standings||5||41|
|1912 Summer||26||Stockholm||Modern Pentathlon||United States||Shooting||21||17||150|
|1912 Summer||26||Stockholm||Modern Pentathlon||United States||Swimming||7||5:55.6|
|1912 Summer||26||Stockholm||Modern Pentathlon||United States||Fencing||4||20|
|1912 Summer||26||Stockholm||Modern Pentathlon||United States||Riding||6||100|
|1912 Summer||26||Stockholm||Modern Pentathlon||United States||Running||3||20:01.9|