On my way from College Station to Orlando, a stop in an airport bookstore in Houston brought me face-to-face with a new book “Growing Up Patton” by Benjamin Patton, the grandson of General Patton. I found it to be a great read that certainly gave way to new information.
While I knew that Patton’s son, George S. Patton IV, had been in the military, I was unaware of his distinguished career. It was one that included two wars (including three tours in Vietnam). He received two Distinguished Service Crosses, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. All of this after graduating from West Point in which as he was leaving the graduation service he was met by a man who said “Well, George, you’ll never be the man your father was, but congratulations.”
One of the most intriguing parts of the book were never before seen letters between General Patton and his son. As we head into this Memorial Day, we should not only never forget the tremendous sacrifices of the brave men and women who fight for our freedoms but also those of their families. During World War II, General Patton saw his son only twice – all the time while the younger George was working his way through West Point. It should be noted that Patton died less than a year before his son graduated.
Yet here is General Patton, leading our troops in an epic battle and still finding time on a regular basis to write his son. It is some of those messages that I pulled from the letters that he passed on to his son that I will share today.
May 19, 1939
It never pays to fight an underdog. You can fight for them, but never against them.
A man who is self-confident does not run around with a gang. It is much better to be a lone wolf than a coyote.
July 13, 1942
AGAIN, NEVER BE LATE, ALWAYS BE WELL DRESSED, DON’T BREAK THE REGULATIONS AND DON’T BE CARELESS ABOUT ROOM POLICE. (Patton wrote this sentence in caps).
December 22, 1942
…If I am as famous as you seem to think, I really believe it is quite unfortunate. In a horse race you never want to make your face on the first turn. It is better to put on the speed in the stretch – and the stretch is some years from now.
October 6, 1943
Self-confidence is the surest way of obtaining what you want. If you know in your own heart you are going to be something, you will be it.
January 14, 1944
Be so SPOONY that you not only get by but attract attention. Why do you think I pay so much attention to being well dressed. You must be different from the crowd but different in an efficient way, not in a sloppy way.
Remember that General Pershing told me one that SELF CONFIDENCE is the great thing a man can have. Joe Louis is not a great boxer but he thinks he is a great fighter so he is. Men are never beaten by anything but their own souls when the latter curl up.
June 6, 1944
This group of unconquerable heroes whom I command are not in yet but we will be soon – I wish I was there now as it is a lovely sunny day for a battle and I am fed up with just sitting.
I have no immediate idea of being killed but one can never tell and none of us can live forever, so if I should go don’t worry but set yourself to better than I have.
All men are timid on entering any right whether it is the first thing ro the last fight. All of us are timid. Cowards are those who let their timidity get the better of their manhood.
There are apparently two types of successful soldiers: those who get on by being unobtrusive and those who get on by being obtrusive. I am the latter type and seem to be rare and unpopular; but it is my method. FOne has to choose a system and stick to it. People who are not themselves are nobody.
To be a successful soldier you must know history. Read it objectively – dates and even the minute details of tactics are useless. What you must know is how man reacts. Weapons change but the man who uses them changes not at all. To win battles you do not beat weapons – you beat the soul of man, of the enemy man. To do that you have to destroy his weapons, but that is only incidental. You must read biography and especially autobiography. If you will do it you will find that war is simple. Decide what will hurt the enemy most within the limits of your capabilities to harm him and then do it. TAKE CALCULATED RISKS. That is quite different from being rash. My personal belief is that if you have a 50% chance, take it because the superior fighting qualities of American soldiers led by me will surely give you the extra 1% necessary.
I am sure that if every leader who goes into battle will promise himself that he will come out either a conqueror or a corpse, he is sure to win. There is no doubt of that. Defeat is not due to losses but to the destruction of the soul of the leaders. The “Live to fight another day” doctrine.
The most vital quality a soldier can possess is SELF-CONFIDENCE, utter and complete and bumptious. You can have doubts about your good looks, about your intelligence, about your self-control; but to win in war you must have NO doubts about your ability as a soldier.
The intensity of your desire to acquire any special ability depends on character, or ambition.
There is no such thing as a “A good field soldier.” You are either a good soldier or a bad soldier.
August 21, 1944
Your letter of August 8, duly dated, just reached me. I believe that by now you know where I am, but if you know what I am doing you are smarter than the Germans. We have been having a swell time and I trust that good fortune continues to attend our efforts.
I have used one principle in these operation which has been remarkably successful, and that is to – “Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
That is the whole art of war, and when you get to be a general, remember it!
I have never given a damn what the enemy was going to do or where he was. What I have known is what I have intended to do and then have done it. By acting in this manner I have always gotten to the place he expected me to come about three days before he got there.
November 8, 1944
…In one of the magazines – I think it was Time – I was attacked for attempting to accomplish the impossible. This was a very stupid attack because success is only achieved by accomplishing the impossible.
January 16, 1945
I was glad to hear from a letter from your mother what a nice Xmas you had and I was also delighted to hear that you were rated so high in leadership. It is the thing that wins battles. I have it – but I’ll be damned if I can define it: Possibly it consists in knowing what you want to do and then doing it and getting made if any one steps in the way. Self-confidence and leadership are twin brothers.
September 3, 1945
The Japanese, therefore, surrendered not because they were unready to win.
…Finally, my conclusion is that the Army is just as important as it ever was and the people with imagination are needed.