The Funeral of General George S. Patton, Jr.

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.

photo of General Patton's casket
111-SC-223850

For more details on Patton’s life and career, see Patton: A Genius for War by Carlo D’Este.


Sources:

  • 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.

7 thoughts on “The Funeral of General George S. Patton, Jr.

  1. The other pallbearers, alongside MSG Meeks, are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). The unit traces its lineage back to the First American Regiment, the first unit created by the United States after the disbanding of the Continental Army. The strap on the left should of those carrying the casket is called the “Buff Strap,” the Regiment’s distinctive unit trimming still worn today. Today the 1st and 4th Battalions of the 3rd Infantry Regiment are ceremonial troops here in the nation’s capital. In a bit of “foreshadowing,” the Regiment took part in Patton funeral in 1945, but after a short period of inactivation, the Regiment was re-activated in 1948, with one of its primary missions to provide final honors for Soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Today the unit still performs this mission by way of the Caisson Platoon, and serving as casket bearers for US Army Soldiers being interred at Arlington. Our unit also provides the Soldiers who provide 24-hour Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

  2. A true warrior who took his job as a soldier very seriously. A great example of what a Leader should be! To bad our Hero is not buried in Arlington with our other brave warriors!

    1. There are THOUSANDS of brave warriors who are buried near where they fell in WW I and WW II at 25 permanent American burial grounds on foreign soil. Patton was one of them. General Lesley J. McNair, highest ranking officer killed in WW II is another.

      Presently there are 124,908 U.S. war dead interred at these cemeteries. American Battle Monuments Commission administers, operates, and maintains these cemeteries along with the WW II Memorial in Washington DC

      http://www.john-michael.net/2014/05/remembering-never-came-home-usa/

      Sincerely,

      John Michael
      “Preserving the memories so others will remember… ” ™

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