Accidental death of brilliant, outspoken battlefield commander months after WWII victory sparked conspiracy theories
By Kerry J. Byrne
General George S. Patton Jr., an American World War II hero famed for his battlefield brilliance, unvarnished view of combat and volatile personality, died in Heidelberg, Germany, on this day in history, Dec. 21, 1945.
He was 60 years old.
Patton was paralyzed in an auto accident on Dec. 9. “Old Blood and Guts” died in the hospital of a blood clot in his heart.
The general “led a life of adventure, fighting in almost every major American twentieth century conflict,” the National World War II Museum notes.
“He often led from the front, and he almost always delivered victory,” the same source also says. “His swift conquest of Sicily, his race across France, his relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and his drive into Germany destroyed German armies, saved American lives and captured the collective imagination of the American public.”
Patton, an early champion of tank warfare, served under U.S. Army Gen. John Pershing in World War I.
He spent years after the war working on mechanized tactics and strategy — planning for another war overseas.
“We’re not just going to shoot the sons of b******, we’re going to rip out their living g******** guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks,” Patton barked at his troops before they entered battle, in one of his most memorable speeches.
“We’re going to murder those lousy Hun b******* by the bushel f***ing basket.”
Patton “produced more results, in less time, with fewer casualties than any other general, in any army, in World War II” — despite his boisterous rhetoric and reputation for recklessness — biographer Alan Axelrod said on the American Heroes Channel.
“Patton often led from the front, and he almost always delivered victory.” — National WWII Museum
Patton was part of American occupation forces in Germany after the war when he headed out on a hunting trip with his friend, Major General Hobart R. Gay.
PFC Horace Lynn Woodring, his chauffeur, a 19-year-old Kentucky native, was operating a 1938 Cadillac Model 75, and Patton was seated in the right rear seat.
Gay sat next to Patton, behind the driver.
According to a thorough account of the incident written by the author Peter J. K. Hendrikx, Patton “was commenting on the litter that war had left behind, piled up on both sides of the road near the quartermaster depot.”
A “2.5-ton 6×6 GMC truck, traveling in the opposite direction, suddenly made a left turn toward the quartermaster depot” at that point.
Woodring had no way to avoid hitting the truck.
Hendrikx was added “After being propelled forward, Patton likely hit his head on the railing that was located above the back of the driver’s seat. This removed Patton’s forehead skin. Woodring and General Gay were only shaken up. Since Patton was immobile, [the general] fell onto Gay’s lap, and Gay requested that Woodring assist him in getting out from under Patton.”
Patton was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. The best medical professionals in Germany, England, and the United States were contacted to treat the general.
There was nothing they could do.
Patton’s accidental death after a life of combat, coupled with his outspoken views on World War II ally Soviet Union, has fueled conspiracy theories for more than 75 years.
“The man driving the truck and his two passengers quickly vanished after the incident. No criminal charges were ever filed. No accountability was ever recorded,” Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard wrote in their 2014 book, “Killing Patton.”
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” — Patton
“Both the official accident report and several key witnesses soon went missing. And most ominous of all, a former American intelligence operative confessed in October 1979 that he had planned and participated in the assassination of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.”
Given Patton’s outsized role in the Allied victory in Europe and his larger-than-life reputation in both sides of the Atlantic, the place of his burial became a topic of considerable international discussion.
The French government offered to have the American general buried in Napoleon’s tomb in Paris, an honor that spoke to Patton’s status in the eyes of newly liberated Europe.
His wife, Beatrice, flew from Boston to be by his bedside after the accident and at first wished to have him interred near their Massachusetts home.
Mrs. Patton ultimately decided to have him buried in Europe.
Patton’s accidental death after a life of combat … has fueled conspiracy theories for more than 75 years.
At the Luxembourg American Cemetery, General Patton is interred alongside more than 5,000 other American service members, many of whom perished during the Battle of the Bulge.
According to the National World War II Museum, “His cross faces those of the men he led, as if he were leading them again for one last battle.”
One of Patton’s many well-known quotes is, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.”
“Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”