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Oyler: 'Old Blood and Guts' revealed as more than military genius

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:36 p.m.

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society's April program meeting featured an interesting talk about Gen. George Patton by Dr. Jack Aupperle, a retired United Methodist minister. A dynamic public speaker, his presentation was enthusiastically received by his audience.

Aupperle's talk was primarily based on a recent book by Michael Keane, entitled “Patton: Blood, Guts and Prayer,” which focuses on the influence of mysticism and spiritualism on the general's well-documented career. According to this reference, despite the arrogant, profane image he projected in public, Patton was an unusual combination of devout Episcopalian and confirmed mystic.

He believed that he had had visions of earlier lives — as a Roman Legionnaire with Julius Caesar at Carthage and as a member of Napoleon Bonaparte's army — and that warfare was his destiny. He used prayer, for “fighting weather” or for unlimited fuel for his tanks, in a manner that seems to be based more on superstition than faith.

Gen. Patton came from a military family; one ancestor, Hugh Mercer, was killed during the Battle of Princeton in the Revolutionary War. His grandfather, George Smith Patton, was killed in the Third Battle of Winchester while commanding the 22nd Virginia Infantry in the Civil War. A great uncle, Walter T. Patton, was a fatality during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.

Patton graduated from West Point in the middle of his class in 1909. When the Pancho Villa campaign occurred in 1916, he was assigned to Gen. Pershing as his aide. Patton impressed Pershing sufficiently to be added to his staff when they went to France in 1917. There he immediately became interested in the French use of tanks as support of infantry.

By the summer of 1918, he had organized the U.S. First Provisional Tank Brigade and led it successfully at the battles of Sainte-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his exploits in a battle against German machine gun emplacements at the town of Cheppy.

Following the armistice, Patton stayed on active duty, with a variety of assignments, many of which permitted him to formulate the concepts of mechanized warfare in a modern army. By 1938 he had become a full colonel, assigned to Fort Myer, Va., where he impressed Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall.

As preparations for the country's entry into World War II began, motorized divisions were established. Patton was given command of the 2nd Armored Division and distinguished himself during large scale maneuvers in Tennessee and Louisiana in 1941. These maneuvers were a testing ground for his ideas about mechanized warfare.

When the United States finally entered World War II, Patton led the First Armored Corps in the invasion of North Africa in the summer of 1942. Next came the invasion of Sicily with Patton now leading the Seventh Army to a dramatic victory at Messina and the liberation of the entire island. It was during this campaign that several incidents of his striking enlisted men and accusing them of cowardice attracted national attention, resulting is his being removed from command.

Preparations for D-Day were now under way in England. Patton was given command of the newly formed Third Army. By August, soldiers of the Third Army were in combat in France where they quickly confirmed the power of modern armored warfare. They reached Loraine by the end of the month before they ran out of fuel.

In December, the German counterattack led to the Battle of the Bulge. Six divisions of the Third Army raced north to lift the siege of Bastogne. Patton's ability to accomplish this during severe winter conditions was perhaps the greatest achievement of his career.

By early 1945, the Third Army had entered Germany, crossing the Rhine River on March 22. Their advance into South Germany continued until VE-Day. Their 281 days of consecutive combat produced successes unparalleled in American military history and well-deserved acclaim for their commander.

Following the end of hostilities in Europe, Patton served as military governor of Bavaria for six months before taking command of the Fifteenth U.S. Army. On Dec. 8, he was injured in a military vehicle accident and died 13 days later.

George Patton is remembered as a brilliant strategist whose ideas revolutionized armored warfare.

The next Bridgeville Area Historical Society program meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 27, in the Chartiers Room at the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. Historian Todd DePastino will provide a presentation on “FDR.” The meeting is open to the public.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343- 1652 or

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