Beatrice Patton knew after years of experience that the trick was “not to say goodbye at all” but to be “very casual about it.” The plan had been for the Pattons’ leave-taking to take place at Bolling Airfield just outside Washington, but when they stood on the tarmac on the afternoon of October 23, 1942, Beatrice gratefully accepted General Stratemeyer’s offer to come along to Norfolk, Virginia. After all, her husband “expected to die fighting” and this might be the last time she ever saw him.
Major General Patton was the commander of the Western Task Force — in charge of the invasion of Casablanca — in a joint British-American amphibious operation in North Africa called Operation Torch. The C-47 took off at 2 p.m., Beatrice surrounded by George’s most loyal subordinates: Deputy Commander General Keyes; Chief of Staff Colonel Gay; Deputy Chief of Staff Colonel Hawkins; Captains Jenson and Stiller, George’s aides; and finally Meeks, his faithful orderly. George looked the same way she’d always seen him when he was about to enter the polo field at the start of an Inter-Island match in Hawaii, both nervous and excited. Her suspicions were confirmed when the C-47 landed in Norfolk and he “started to leave without saying good-by [sic].”
As he prepared to board the Augusta, Beatrice kissed her husband of thirty-two years and stepped into the waiting car which would drive her the two hundred miles back to Washington. She sat there for hours — some say until 3 a.m., when the fleet finally pulled out of the harbor — mesmerized by the sight of the flickering lights aboard the hundreds of ships in the harbor. The largest single armada to sail from US soil was an impressive sight, but the image which remained with her forever was of the only man she ever loved embarking on his destiny.
Beatrice “was glad, the great strain was over for him at last,” but just like at a polo match it was only just beginning for her. To have George safe at home with her meant bouts of unhappiness like he experienced intermittently over the last twenty-four years, to have him take part in the biggest war in history meant years of anxiety and waiting for her. This was his last chance to gain the glory he yearned for his whole life, and she knew he would give it his all because “life and happiness [were] small sacrifices.” She accepted it, however, as their shared destiny the day she married him.
It is quite telling of a woman’s character and devotion when she marries a man who warned her he doesn’t “care for a home and friends and peace and a regular order of life.” It took courage, perseverance, and a dash of eccentricity to be married to a man who focused his entire life on preparing for an opportunity which might or might not come. Beatrice realized very early on that standing in her husband’s way would only be detrimental. “If they are true men, a woman can’t hold them back,” she told a reporter. “And a true woman wouldn’t want to.”
Instead, she would help him shoulder the responsibilities of his destiny. If anyone considered an army wife to be “merely the tail of the kite,” Beatrice Ayer Patton had the perfect retort, “How high can a kite soar without its tail?”
George S. Patton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
“Lieut. Gen. and Mrs. George S. Patton, Jr.” Cosmopolitan Magazine, Nov. 1943, pp. 8–11.
Patton, Beatrice Ayer. “The Army Wife.” The Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 1943.
Patton, Robert H. The Pattons: A Personal History of an American Family. Potomac Books, an Imprint of the University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
Picture: Invasion convoy enroute to Morocco, circa early November 1942. National Archives Catalog #: 80-G-1032486