Saturday, December 21, 2013



Heidelberg, Germany (JFK+50) U.S. Army General George S. Patton*, "Old Blood and Guts," died 68 years ago today, December 21, 1945, in a military hospital here in Heidelberg.

In 1944, General Patton had been assigned command of the Third Army which "advanced further, captured more prisoners and liberated more territory in less time than any other army in history."

The cause of death was pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure that followed a severe injury to the head sustained in an automobile accident on December 9.

General Patton had been riding in the back seat of a 1938 Cadillac staff car when the driver stopped at a railroad crossing to allow a train to pass.  When the driver started up again, he was hit by a 2.5 ton GMC truck.

Although the crash at 1st glance seemed minor, General Patton's head had struck a metal part of a partition that separated the front and rear seats causing a compression fracture and dislocation of the 3rd and 4th vertebrae resulting in a broken neck and severe cervical spinal cord injury.

When he arrived at the hospital, Patton reportedly said: "Jesus Christ, what a way to start a leave."

       Patton and Lt.Col. Lyle Bernard 
                    Near Brolo, Sicily

In a speech to his soldiers before their landing in Sicily, General Patton said:

"When we land against the enemy, don't forget to hit him and hit him hard.  When we meet the enemy we will kill him.  We will show him no mercy.  He has killed thousands of your comrades and he must die!"

Generals Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton
National Archives Photo

On December 22, 1945, 7th Army General Orders 635 said:

"With deep regret, the announcement is made of the death of General George S. Patton, Jr. Probably no soldier has had a greater compliment paid to him than that given (Patton) by his most powerful and skilled opponents.  He was termed the ablest American field commander by the German army on any front."

In an interview for Stars and Stripes just after his capture, Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt said: " your best!"

An honor guard of 6000 GIs stood at attention as Patton's body was taken from the hospital to the railroad station for transport for burial.

Grave of General George S. Patton
      Hamm, Luxemburg (2006)
      Photo by Michel Dieleman

*George S. Patton, Jr. was born into a military family in San Gabriel, California in 1885.  His grandfather served in the Confederate army in the Civil War. 

George Patton attended V.M.I. and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1909.

Serving in the 8th Cavalry, he began wearing his Colt 45 pistol in his belt and later changed to an ivory handled Colt revolver.  He participated in the search for Pancho Villa under John J. Pershing.

Patton served in WWI where he organized the American tank school in France & won the Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Service Medal.

Patton at VMI in 1907


"Patton and His Third Army" by Brenton G. Wallace (1946)