Sins of Omission

The Patton You Didn’t Know

Thanks to the movie, most Americans are familiar with George Patton—the crusty, outspoken, and brilliantly aggressive general of World War II fame.  Yet few know of his exploits as a young officer.  There is nothing about Patton’s early career in any of our standard history textbooks, an omission that is unfortunate.  At one time we learned of the lives of our heroes to draw inspiration from them.

As a child Patton listened transfixed to stories about his grandfather, a Confederate war hero.  Sixteen of Patton’s ancestors fought with honor and distinction in the war.  Most of them suffered wounds; three of them died.  Suffering from dyslexia, Patton had difficulty reading but not listening.  A maiden aunt lived with the family and read to Patton for hours from the Bible, until Patton could quote chapter and verse.  She also read from dozens of books about the Civil War and wars throughout history, especially those of classical antiquity—Plutarch’s Lives, Xenophon’s Anabasis, stories about Alexander the Great.

Patton grew up desperately wanting to be a warrior and, at 17, went off to VMI and a year later to West Point.  After five years and much struggle—although excelling in history, riding, and marksmanship—he was graduated in 1909 and assigned to the cavalry.  His duties would include serving as a riding...

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