Patton's grandson discusses leadership
May 10, 2012
By VINCE LITTLE
FORT BENNING, Ga. (May 9, 2012) -- Officers and NCOs in various courses across Fort Benning heard Wednesday from the youngest grandson of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.
Benjamin Patton, a documentary filmmaker in New York, shared lessons from his dad, Maj. Gen. George S. Patton IV, a highly decorated officer in his own right who led Soldiers in Korea and Vietnam, and what he's learned over the years about his more legendary grandfather during a leadership presentation at Derby Auditorium. The audience included students in Officer Candidate School, the Basic Officer Leader Course and Maneuver Captains Career Course.
"My father really was my titan, and believe me, he was very much cut from the same cloth as my grandfather," he said. "They both had powerful personalities, and they knew how to use them. It was effective. As far as leaders go, they knew exactly when to insert themselves at critical points."
Benjamin Patton said he never served himself but was raised in an Army household. He now works with Soldiers affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and recently wrote a book titled, "Growing Up Patton: Reflections on Heroes, History and Family Wisdom."
"I haven't missed a meal or heard a shot fired in anger, and my dad reminded me of that every morning," he said. "I'm able to do the things I do because of folks like you, so the first thing I'd like to do is just say 'thank you.'"
Patton Jr.'s heroics in World War II were immortalized in the 1970 Academy Award-winning biographical war film, Patton, starring George C. Scott.
The real Patton Jr. died in December 1945 following a car accident, about six months before Patton IV graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. Benjamin Patton was 5 when the movie got released but said he gained more insight into his grandfather from weekly letters written during the war to his son at West Point.
"My grandfather and dad were a lot alike," he said. "As my grandfather's biographer said, my dad was raised on cereal and military history for breakfast. Every morning, he'd get stories.
"History sort of thinks of my grandfather as totally self-absorbed and wrapped up in everything. He may have been those things, but he was also a very involved father. And there's this great mingling of tactical talk and fatherly advice (in the letters). … The way into them was through this fascinating correspondence and also through the many individuals that my father and grandfather knew."
Benjamin Patton discussed growing up in the shadow and legacy of the Patton name. He said there's no comparison to what his own father faced. Patton IV didn't even rate high enough to get into Armor initially and had to work his way in later.
"He goes through graduation (at West Point) and people know who he is because his father's so famous," he said. "An old veteran walks up to him and says, 'You'll never be the man your father was, but congratulations anyway.' Imagine that happening the very first day of your professional career. Yet he persevered. And what's been interesting is to see the leadership qualities he clearly picked up from his father."
Patton IV went on to earn the Distinguished Service Cross twice, two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart. He commanded the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, better known as the "Blackhorse Regiment," in Vietnam and later served as the 2nd Armored Division commander at Fort Hood, Texas.
Later, Patton IV became assistant commandant of the Armor School at Fort Knox, Ky. He passed away in June 2004.
Benjamin Patton showed clips of films he made on the Pattons. They feature interviews, old family movies and images of the eldest general training at Fort Benning in the early 1940s.
The filmmaker said both leaders brought "audacious" personalities to the battlefield but benefited from a deep sense and appreciation of history.
"They had some things that people didn't like so much. They were having constant brushes with authority. I'm quite sure that it shortened both of their careers," he said. "But both of them had a chance to really shine, and it worked out OK. They really deeply cared about their Soldiers.
"My grandfather would always say that weapons change but how men react or respond to them doesn't. … You have to understand the soul of a man to beat him."
In 1977, Patton IV gave a final speech to the 2nd Armored Division and offered his definition of readiness, Benjamin said: "He described it as the 'professional, moral, spiritual, mental and materiel capability to carry out the military objectives" of America anywhere in the world, against heavy odds and under the toughest conditions imaginable.
"That sums up what my grandfather often said, 'I fight where I'm told and I win where I fight,'" he told the audience. "That's just the attitude they had."