By Stefan Alford, Medical Department Activity-Heidelberg November 17, 2011
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Nobody at the Heidelberg Health Center is really sure just how long the annual remembrance ceremony for Gen. George S. Patton has been observed outside of the room in which he died 12 days after suffering a spinal injury when the vehicle he was riding in collided with a truck in Mannheim.
Some previous garrison newspaper clippings report that the ceremony has taken place every year since his death in December 1945, making the Nov. 9 event at Nachrichten Kaserne possibly the 65th occasion that a tribute presentation has taken place.
One local employee who has worked with the medical contingent in Heidelberg since 1969 doesn't recall the ceremonies taking place until the early 1990s, but added that perhaps they might have taken place before but were just low key.
The only thing for certain about the timeline regarding last week's Patton remembrance ceremony is that it will be the last.
With the Medical Department Activity-Heidelberg deactivating next summer and the kaserne closing its doors in 2013, the Patton memorabilia donated by his son will be returned to the family.
"This was the last ceremony here," said Capt. Vic Johnson, MEDDAC company commander and project officer for the event the past two years. "We are in touch with the family to return the items [which include an encased book shelf and plaque]."
Johnson was responsible last year for moving the date of the annual event from Dec. 21, the day Patton died, closer to Nov. 11, the day he was born.
"We are honoring his life, not his death," he explained. "This is a remembrance ceremony, not a memorial service."
That reasoning ties in well to one of Patton's own famous quotes given in a speech about the losses of the men under his command: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived."
The ceremony included comments by MEDDAC Commander Col. Telita Crosland; a brief retrospective and prayer by Chaplain (Capt.) Eric Dean; a ceremonial laying of garland by an Honor Guard team; and a video presentation of a History Channel documentary about Patton.
Despite the ceremony being the last, its significance will be carried forward by the youngest generation of Soldiers attending the observance.
"I think the importance of the Patton ceremony is to remember our important leaders and what they accomplished," said Spc. Makenzie Smallfoot, a radiology technician who attended last week's event. "The progress we have made over the years is all due to these leaders. It is important to remember where, how and the people who assisted the progression of the United States Army to where we are today."