GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON … ACHIEVED RANK OF 4-STAR GENERAL, 1945 … AWARDED 12 U.S. MEDALS, INCLUDING A DISTINGUISHED SERVICE CROSS WITH ONE OAK LEAF CLUSTER, SILVER STAR WITH ONE OAK LEAF CLUSTER, BRONZE STAR, AND PURPLE HEART … AWARDED 11 FOREIGN MEDALS … 1912 STOCKHOLM SUMMER OLYMPIAN, MODERN PENTATHLON … U.S. ARMY, 1909 1945 Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory. GEORGE S. PAT TON GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON 71 PAT TON’S GRANDSON, JAMIE TOT TEN When my mom told the general (her father) that she wanted to marry my father, the general was not happy. But he relented, mainly because he knew my father was a great athlete. My dad was a terrific horseback rider and swimmer, and my grandfather loved that. I would play three sports a year my whole life, just because my mom and dad came from families where sports were deemed a vital part of your development. By the way, in military circles the name Totten gets as much respect as Patton.
The Tottens have a rich history of military accomplishments and acts of heroism. My grandfather looked at sports as a way to prepare for battle. As a kid, he decided he wanted to be a general. He learned that soldiering was a physical job and you had to be in great shape. He believed competition brought out the best in people, and he strived to do his best. If his best was good enough, he’d win. He pursued athletics because he thought it made him a better soldier by helping him deal with fear and by staying fit. He saw football as a true test of strength and courage. When he tried it himself he found that although he loved it, he wasn’t very good at it. His way of coping was to try harder. That’s where the broken bones came in. General Patton was quite slim in his college days. He was a secondstring, one hundred fifty-pound linebacker, but he couldn’t seem to stay on the field. Throughout his four years of football at West Point, he kept getting hurt. This was pre-pad football. All they wore for protection were these big, bulky sweaters and leather helmets. The way I understand it, he tried so hard to make the first team that he kept breaking bones and would end up in a cast, rarely making an appearance on the field. FROM STANLE Y HERSHON’S BIOGRAPHY, GENERAL PATTON: A SOLDIER’S LIFE (HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS) In the fall of 1906, Patton busied himself with football.
A substitute end on the West Point team, he had his biggest moment not during a game but during a practice against the varsity before the Yale contest. When Patton’s block against the starting right tackle enabled the scrubs to gain 72 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME fifteen yards, he drew compliments. But generally, he played so poorly that he was not even in the practice games. His senior year, Patton was intent on breaking into the lineup and starting for West Point. Unfortunately, his fourth year looked like it was going the way of the other three. In this letter to his future wife, Bea, you can feel his passion to play: We are in one H__ of a fix for football men. We have no tackle and not a single scrub . . . I am about as heavy as any body on the scrubs and I can only just get 160 in undress it is awful. . . . When the Navy got us last year I swore a great swear that come what would I would do anything in my power to beat them this year and if the destined way is to be a center, a center I will be. If only we can win. It may sound silly but my thoughts are anything but light on the subject.
At the end of September he sent Bea terrible news. We had a very hard practice Monday and I did myself proud until the last down when I broke my small bone of my left arm. I am rather put over (so is the bone) as I was going in the game Saturday. Also, it has kept me awake and continues to do so. I will be out five weeks and that gives me four more weeks of this, my last season. I have already devised a brace so hope to get in again. ACCORDING TO JAMIE TOT TEN My grandfather’s real talent was in track. He held a couple of records at West Point in the hurdles. At the West Point field day in 1908, he won the 120-yard and 220-yard hurdles, and also placed second in the 220-yard dash. In the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, he competed in the first-ever pentathlon. In those days, only those in the military were allowed to compete. His approach to track and to sports in general can be best summarized in a letter he sent and one he received from his dad. Old Blood and Guts wasn’t all about winning, not by a long shot. GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON 73 In June 1905, when Young George tripped over a hurdle and finished last instead of a sure second in a race, his father wrote: Your letter of the 3rd came to-day and I can’t tell you how my soul sympathized with you in your defeat in the hurdle racebut it was only because I knew how much you had set your heart on success.
It is a good thing to be ambitious and to strive mightily to win in every contest in which you engage; but you must school yourself to meet defeat and failure without bitterness and to take your comfort in having striven worthily and done your best. On May 10, 1912, Patton got word that he was to represent the army in the modern pentathlon at the Olympic games in Stockholm. The events consisted of pistol shooting, swimming 300 meters, fencing, crosscountry steeplechase (three miles on horseback), and a cross-country run of two and a half miles. He finished fifth overall, and if it weren’t for an early case of nerves during the pistol shooting, he would have won a medal. The most noteworthy moment was perhaps his last run. He left the stadium in first place and came back in third and almost fainted at the finish. One newspaper marveled at his fine finish. Also of note was that he bested the French army fencing champ and did poorest in an event (shooting) he should have been best at. He still managed to right his ship and come back. This letter from his dad points out how special his son’s performance was. He wrote from California to Sweden, where George hung around after the games: It is too bad you are not able to be here just now.
It would give you a graphic idea of that elusive thing called fame. I can hardly walk a block in town without meeting an enthusiast who rings my hand and says that son of yours is surely a wonder or some similar expression. As for the poor showing in the shooting event, his father wrote: 74 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME In shooting it is universally conceded you must have been dopedor your cartridges tampered with. Great is famefew enjoy it while alive. You ought to come home before it is forgotten. BY THE WAY Being General Patton’s grandson is a lofty legacy to live up to. I am just as proud of my father’s family as I am of my mother’s. George’s grandfather was a major force in Los Angeles, and he was the one who named Big Bear Lake because he killed so many grizzlies there. They were really the founding family of California and literally owned Pasadena.
That was a lot to live up to. I managed to cut my own wake in the military, rising to the rank of colonel. MY WRAP The legendary general experienced it all in sports. The one constant was his passion and drive. He went as hard at the sport in which he did not excel (football) as in the ones he did (track, shooting, and fencing.) The compassionate letters from his dad should give heart to those who think a kind, caring dad raises a weak kid. That wasn’t the case for me, nor was it for George Patton. When I read about Patton’s life in football, I was inspired to write this book and determined to make historic figures a part of it. GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON
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