Photograph of General George Patton wearing his 4-star service cap in 1945. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
George S. Patton
George S. Patton (1885–1945)
U.S. Army General, Olympic Athlete
Born and raised in the San Gabriel Mountains of California, George S. Patton enjoyed a privileged childhood. He decided on a military career while still very young and won an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point after a year studying at the Virginia Military Institute. An Olympic athlete and expert swordsman, Patton first saw action in the 1916 Pancho Villa Expedition in Mexico. During World War I, he served as personal aide to General John J. Pershing and later commanded a tank brigade. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart. He spent much of the interwar years enhancing the U.S. Army’s armored warfare capacity. Known to his men as “Old Blood and Guts,” Patton became one of the most famous American military commanders during World War II. His profane speeches and flamboyant behavior made him beloved by his soldiers but often distrusted by superiors. He won impressive victories in North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy, and led his men into Germany in 1945. Always aggressive, he was impatient with those who failed to meet his expectations, controversially slapping a young private suffering from battle fatigue. This led to his temporary removal as a battlefield commander, but his skills and fighting spirit were seen as indispensable to the final victory, and he returned to the front line. Having led his men in battle all over Europe and the Middle East, Patton died in a car accident in December 1945.