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WW II: Sharing a Bottle With General Patton

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During the push of the U.S. Third Army across Europe in the closing days of World War II, the war-weary troops of General George Patton began to allow themselves to dream of the end of the conflict.

The Germans fought desperately, knowing defeat was all but certain. Caught in the bloody pincer of the Soviets on one side and the Americans on the other, they were like “a mad dog trapped in a corner,” according to Sgt. Marvin Cook. Mr. Cook said the worst fear he had was dying this late in the game with victory so close at hand. It was a “bitter and hard-fought” end to the Thousand Year Reich.

Even in the heat of those last terrifying days of World War II in Europe, American servicemen found reason to smile at the antics of their brothers-in-arms. Mr. Cook had a friend, a Corporal named Al from New York City, New York that Marvin claims could “find a bottle of wine in Hell.” It seems Al was adept at finding the only surviving bottle of booze in a bombed out village. It was a talent greatly appreciated by his squad, but one the officers were less enamored with.

One memorable day, as Al climbed out of a cellar strewn with bricks and timber from the shelling, carefully shielding a crock of wine, the soldiers got an unexpected surprise. After a cursory glance around to make sure no officer was looking, the boys popped the cork and took the chance to taste it. “Damn good stuff. We were so happy to find it and pass it around that we didn’t notice the jeep until it was too late.

“My heart fell plumb to my stomach when we saw the flag on that jeep. The flag of a General Officer named George S. Patton.” It was the first time Marvin had ever spoken to General Patton. The exchange between this legendary General and a dogface Sergeant is both comical and telling of both men in extraordinary circumstances.

“What the hell are you men doing? The goddam Germans are that way, and you’re standing here with your thumbs up your asses?” Sgt. Cook, being the highest-ranking NCO standing there, was the one to offer the explanation. “Sorry, General. We were just having a quick smoke and talking about going home, sir.”

“Home? Why you ignorant sonsofbitches are going to get killed standing here gawking! What the hell is that bastard hiding behind his back?”

“It’s a bottle of wine, sir.”

“Wine! Where the fuck did you find wine? Never mind. Don’t just stand there, Sergeant, bring it here.”

“Yes, sir!”

Sgt. Cook took the crock from Al and walked to the jeep to hand it to Patton. He expected to see the General throw it to the ground and proceed to tear into them for drinking. He got a shock when this feared General popped the cork and took a healthy drink.

“Jesus! I can’t believe my men are drinking this piss!” Replacing the cork, Patton tossed it back to Sgt. Cook. “Take one drink each, bust that damn bottle, then get your asses in gear. We’ve got a war to win.”

“Yes sir, thank you, sir.”

“If you find any more goddam wine, if it’s better than that crap, let me know.”

“Yes, sir.”

Yelling at his driver to pull out, Patton stared at the men of Sgt. Cook’s company as they moved away, and Cook said he had a smile on his face. “That was my only run-in with that crazy bastard, and I’m glad. He was a tough bird, but we would have followed him into Hell. No, that’s wrong, son. We did follow him into Hell, and he brought us out the other side.”

Two men, a famous General, and a tenderhearted, soft spoken, future high school teacher and piano tuner shared a moment of their lives in a war-torn Belgian village. General Patton probably wouldn’t have remembered it today, but a Sergeant from a small Missouri town will never forget his one face-to-face meeting with “Old Blood and Guts.”

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  • S.T.M

    Old Blood and guts Patton might have been a great warrior – “his guts, our blood”, according to his men – but he did have a dark side, on occasions accusing some of his own men, suffering from what we know today as shell shock, of cowardice.

    In one memorable incident, he roused two soldiers out of bed under threat of courts-martial but was eventually restrained and talked out of such a course of action by the medicos.

    Mostly regarded today,with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, as an extremely loose cannon possessed of great luck, a huge ego, plenty of daring and moderate ability, he was nevertheless probably the right man for the right time back then given his combative spirit, fiery temperament, and the will to win.

    Obviously knew his wine, too.

    And if he’d been with the straitlaced, fastidious, cautious but equally combative and egotistical Monty, who was probably his main opponent during the war rather than the Germans, especially in their explosive clashes of ego, he would probably have tried to break the bottle over his head … and vice-versa.

    If it had come down to fisticuffs, my money would have been on Patton.

  • Donnie Marler

    As always, your comments are highly enjoyable. Patton did indeed have a dark side. Most great warriors do. He held those suffering from battle anxiety (shell shock) in deep contempt, considering it nothing less than sheer cowardice. For all his faults, he was the right man at the right time for his mission.
    He was far from perfect, but he was one of the finest military leaders America had in WWII.
    As for Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, I daresay he may have surpassed ‘Old Blood and Guts’ in ego. No small feat. Like you, in a good old fashioned throwdown, I’d have to go with Patton.
    I asked the old Sgt. if Patton was as big a sonofabitch as the movie made him appear? He laughed and said, “no, he was a lot meaner than that movie made him look.”
    I had to chuckle at that.

  • STM

    Montgomery was in fact a very good general and probably a better strategist than Patton, but suffered from one major problem: he wouldn’t improvise. Having seen first hand the results of poor planning in the big battles on the western front in WWI and the dreadful British casualties (he himself was almost fatally shot through the lung at Meteren in 1914), he wouldn’t attack unless he had built up sufficient strength in numbers to overwhelm any foe. This is probably why Patton was regarded by the Germans as a more unpredictable enemy, because they could never work out what he was going to do next. Historians think Patton wasn’t sure himself half the time, but it’s that kind of daring that often wins out and it stamped him as a man willing to think quickly and take risks in his determination to succeed.

    On Monty: When the war in the desert literally see-sawed back and forwards across North Africa, with the two armies locked into a stalemate of alternate attack and retreat between 1939 and 1942, Montgomery was sent by Churchill to launch the campaign that would end Rommel’s ascendency.

    He realised that he could only do it by building up huge reserves and fighting a German-style blitzkrieg-type battle. In keeping with Montgomery’s theories, on the opening night of the battle of El Alamein, the artillery barrage launched by the British was the largest of the war to date and completely shocked the Germans and Italians. It was here that Monty first used his “crumbling” theory. As the attack began to bog down, he launched the Australian 9th division near the coast in the north to draw in Rommel’s crack troops, and then broke out in the south and moved to swing around behind them. It was the first large-scale Allied victory of the war and Monty accurately predicted both the length of the battle and the number of casualties 8th Army would suffer.

    This same crumbling theory was what caused all the problems with Patton in Normandy. After their landings, Canadian 1st Army and British 2nd Army became locked in fierce street fighting around Caen, near the Normandy Coast, and drew the bulk of the German armour into a bloody fight.

    It eventually enabled Patton to break out in the south, and finally elements of the three armies contained the Germans in the Falaise Gap and all but destroyed them. But of course big-headed Monty claimed all the credit, the result of his crumbling theory. From then on, he and Patton, who had always railed at the indignity of having been commanded by a Brit, were constantly at loggerheads.

    Having said all that, Eisenhower is reported as saying that he nearly fell off his chair when Monty walked into Allied HQ and dropped the plan for Market Garden on the table in 1944 – probably the most daring operation of the war.

    It failed, because Monty, in a complete reversal of his tried and true methods, allowed it to be hastily planned and executed. On a personal note, my tough-as-teak uncle fought in that battle and was shot through the leg at Arnhem early in the piece but fought on and was among the few British paratroopers to survive, having somehow escaped by swimming across the river after the Germans closed their trap.

    He was highly decorated for his valour, but insisted always that we should learn from that conflict that war does nothing but lead to death and tears. He never lost his anger towards the Germans for starting it, however. In fact, he bloody hated them for what they’d done. In his encounters with them, I really wouldn’t have liked to be one.