Today’s blog was written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
December 21 is the 70th anniversary of the death of General George S. Patton, Jr., renowned and controversial general and subject of the unforgettable 1970 eponymous motion picture. While he was without a combat command at the time of his death, the occasion was nonetheless significant given his lifetime of service.
Patton had a stellar military career during which he participated in the Mexican Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in 1916; fought in France during World War I where he was seriously wounded; and finally led American forces in North Africa, Sicily, and Western Europe during World War II. His Second World War service was marked by several controversial incidents that almost cut short his career and ultimately led to his removal from significant command.
On December 9, 1945, the staff car in which Patton was riding was involved in a relatively minor traffic accident. The General, however, was thrown about and broke his neck. After lingering for twelve days, he succumbed to his injuries on December 21. While Patton did not have the heroic battlefield death he wanted, he was given a hero’s burial at the U.S. Military Cemetery at Hamm, Luxembourg. Charge d’Affaires George P. Waller sent the following report about the funeral and related matters to the Department of State.
This is a photograph of the occasion. The pallbearer on the left is M/Sgt. William Meeks, who served as Patton’s personal orderly for many years.
For more details on Patton’s life and career, see Patton: A Genius for War by Carlo D’Este.
- The report is U.S. Legation Luxembourg to Department of State, Despatch 348, December 24, 1945, file 811.221/12-2445, Central Decimal Files, 1945-49 (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
- The photograph is from Photographs of American Activities (NAID 530707) RG 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, photograph 111-SC-223850. Thanks to my colleague Holly Reed for help with the photograph.