“I wish people wouldn’t make him so blood-and-gutsy,” Beatrice told Jane Eads of the Los Angeles Times in April 1943. She knew George Patton was “a man furiously fighting for his country,” a man who gave a cold soldier the coat off his back, who stopped his jeep by the side of the road to administer morphine, and who personally ensured that his men received a hot turkey dinner on Christmas Eve.
The name “Old Blood and Guts” first appeared in newspapers in August 1942, in a syndicated article titled “Old Blood and Guts Screams Orders So Loud He Scares Birds.” No explanation was given for the label, except that it was what soldiers called George Patton, in addition to “The Green Hornet” and “Bandito.” (The first was in reference to a tanker’s uniform he designed, and the second to a raid during the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916 that led to the killing of three Villistas.)
General George Patton was first called “Old Blood and Guts” in 1941 while training the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Benning. The name came about because of his fiery motivational speeches to his men, often filled with profanity and references to blood and guts. It was only during the war that some soldiers began referring to it as “his guts and our blood,” and the 1943 Slapping Incident ultimately gave a negative connotation to the name “Old Blood and Guts.”
I PREFER THE BOOK NOT TO BE CALLED, “BLOOD AND GUTS,” A NAME WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN USED BY ANY SOLDIER AND WAS A FIGMENT OF THE IMAGINATION OF SOME NEWSPAPER CORRESPONDENT. I AM ALWAYS EITHER REFERRED TO AS “THE OLD MAN,” OR “GEORGIE,” EXCEPT AS YOU POINT OUT BY MY GRANDSON.
–George Patton to author William Mellor, February 20, 1945
Beatrice agreed the name wasn’t an entire misnomer, but it was somewhat limiting in its description of her husband; her “Georgie” was more than just “fire and purple profanity.” Because he never did anything to dispel its myth, “Old Blood and Guts” forever overshadowed the kind and sensitive man she knew him to be in private. As Sally Flint, widow of Colonel Paddy Flint, once said, “Underneath the rough-spoken, cold-blooded exterior, he was a gentle and kindly person who had to make himself tough to do the job he had. He wasn’t born that way.”
George S. Patton Jr. was as good an actor as George C. Scott. His war face was as much an accoutrement of being a successful commanding general as his immaculate uniform, and his family knew the pistols, the grimace, and the uniform were nothing more than pieces “of an effective military commander’s tool kit.”
THIS COLT FORTY-FIVE THAT I CARRY, DON’T YOU THINK I GET TIRED OF IT? IT’S DAMNED HEAVY. BUT I CAN NO MORE LEAVE IT OFF THAN WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN COULD HAVE LEFT OFF THAT WHITE TIE OF HIS.
-General Patton, Saturday Evening Post June 23, 1945
Hamana Kalili hoped to find an abundance of ulua, a priceless indigenous Hawaiian fish, when he went to check his lines on the morning of June 1, 1926; instead, he found a great white shark measuring twelve-and-a-half feet. Gutting his surprise catch to repurpose all of its parts, Kalili discovered the manō recently enjoyed a lobster, some uluas, and a pair of trunks with B25 sewn on the waistband.
Upon further investigation, he also discovered “the bones of both upper arms, both the bones of each forearm, most all of the bones of the left hand, except the thumb, the top of the head from about the eyes back to and including the bones by which the head connects to the spinal column, and a wad of black hair about three inches long.” It didn’t take long to make the connection with Private William J. Goins, number B25, who had suddenly disappeared beneath the waves at Haleiwa Alii Beach on May 18, 1926.
The news soon spread to Schofield Barracks, where a slightly disbelieving Beatrice immediately jumped in her car. By the time she drove the twenty-four miles to the Kahuku Plantation, only the shark’s jaw hadn’t been cut up yet, all twenty-four inches of it hanging from a tree with a stick clenched between its teeth. Since he already knew Beatrice well, Kalili invited her to stay for the ceremony that the women of the village were performing that evening; after all, a shark as big as the one Kalili caught had to have been someone’s ancestor.
A major part of the Native Hawaiian’s belief system was based on their powerful bond with nature, and this was nowhere clearer than in the concept of ‘aumākua. The lizard, the owl, and especially the shark are often recognized as family guardians, whereby an ancestor takes on the form of an animal upon his death to watch over family members, appearing to them in dreams to offer spiritual guidance. For this reason, the Native Hawaiians neither killed nor ate sharks, and instead of fearing them like most, treated the manō with respect and reverence.
On that day in 1926, Beatrice was introduced to the power of the shark in Hawaiian culture, a theme that featured prominently in her second book, Blood of the Shark, published in December 1936. A male shark became her ‘aumākua, and she was taught a prayer, which told the shark that she was “of his people and that he must obey her.” Beatrice never feared sharks, and she would swim everywhere; George, however, thought she was crazy and always stood on deck with a loaded rifle at the ready.
Made up of villages so small one doesn’t realize when one ends and the next begins, Massachusetts’ North Shore (and environs) was the home of the Ayers beginning in the eighteen-fifties.
Frederick Ayer moved from Syracuse, NY, to Lowell, MA, to join his brother in the patent medicine business and eventually became a major player in the textile industry along the Merrimack River. As his family grew, he built homes in Lowell, Pride’s Crossing, and Boston, creating a bond with the area that would last for generations.
The Pattons eventually settled in South Hamilton at Green Meadows, three miles from Beatrice’s brothers Chilly and Fred at Juniper Ridge and Ledyard Farm, respectively, and eight miles from her sister Kay at Avalon in Pride’s Crossing.
The North Shore is a great place to visit, and what’s more fun than visiting the places one has read (or written) about? Make sure to take along a copy of Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton to learn more about the Pattons’ connections to these beautiful places.
General George S. Patton Jr. was viewed by “his townspeople, neighbors and friends” as a “true gentleman, affable, warm-hearted, cheery in his greetings, popular with everyone.” Beatrice was equally loved in South Hamilton; the chief of police said she was “always law-abiding” with a pleasant word for everyone, while the owner of the local diner called her one of the best and often joined her fishing for pickerel in the Ipswich River at the back of Green Meadows. –Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton
Purchased by the Pattons in 1927 so Beatrice would be surrounded by family when it was time for George to go to war, Green Meadows was home to the Patton family until about ten years ago. It is now open for tours, still filled with the spoils of war George sent home. Walk to the back of the property for a beautiful view of the Ipswich River, or join the Patton Homestead for movie or music night. In the backyard, near the cannon George sent home from North Africa, is Beatrice’s (unofficial) place of burial. Reservations are necessary for tours, but the grounds are open free-of-charge from sunrise to sunset.
Patton Park – Asbury St & MA-1A, South Hamilton
In 1946, the Myopia Hunt Club donated a piece of land along Route 1A to create Patton Park, and in 1947 Beatrice had a 67,000 pound Sherman tank donated from the Army. The tank proudly sits in Patton Park to this day, together with an artillery gun and two Liberty Road Markers in honor of the 83rd Division of the Third Army and the 4th Armored Division.
Pick up a picnic at Appleton Farms a few miles up the road and head to Gibney Field on Sunday afternoons for an exciting game of polo with one of the oldest polo and hunt clubs in the country. The Pattons and Ayers were longstanding and enthusiastic members, and Beatrice died in 1953 not long after setting out on the hunt, across the road on Ledyard Farm.
In charge of the Patton archives and the Patton tours at Green Meadows, the Wenham Museum focuses, among many other things, on the equine traditions of the North Shore. If you are hungry, try the steak tips at Post Hamilton, located in the old South Hamilton Post Office. Built in 1924, it isn’t hard to imagine Beatrice picking up her mail there and sending hundreds of letters to her husband during WWII.
About a twenty-minute walk from the parking lot, Coolidge Reservation offers unparalleled views of Massachusetts Bay and the North Shore. The Ocean Lawn once housed the home of the Coolidge family—the foundation of the house can still be seen—and is reminiscent of the views the Ayers would have enjoyed from their country home Avalon.
Right across the road that lead to Avalon, Pride’s Crossing station was where Cadet Patton often arrived to visit his betrothed. It is now home to Pride’s Crossing Confections, a heavenly aroma of homemade chocolate filling the air.
Plum Cove – Route 127, Gloucester
Grab a lobster roll at the Blue Collar Lobster Company before taking the scenic route to Eastern Point Lighthouse. You will pass Plum Cove along the way, the location where Beatrice and George saved three boys from drowning during a sudden gale in August 1923.
“When the war is over, and if I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.” The Pattons never had the chance to sail their 63-foot schooner built in 1938 around the world, but her current owners are working hard toward that goal. The When and Ifcan be found in Salem Harbor during the summer (and Key West during the winter), available for sunset sails and private charters.
Now an apartment complex with renovated condominiums, the house was once the home of Frederick Ayer and his family. Part of the Spindle City Exploration route, a plaque near the front door reads: “Frederick Ayer joined his brother, the patent medicine manufacturer J. C. Ayer, in Lowell. In time he managed to gain control of several companies and in the 1870s built this magnificent Second Empire style house to reflect his new position and wealth. Beatrice Ayer, the wife of General Patton, was born here.”
At one point one of the largest mills in the world—a part of the American Woolen Company—the Ayer Mill was completed in 1910 and measured close to half-a-mile long. The Ayer Clock, with a face just six inches smaller than Big Ben, still towers over Lawrence, and was recently restored with the help of the Wood and Ayer families, as was the building, which are now offices and residences. If you want to learn the history of the mills along the Merrimack River, check out the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.
Frederick Ayer (1822 – 1918) is buried underneath the tallest monument of the cemetery, together with his wives—Cornelia Wheaton (1835 – 1878) and Ellen Barrows Banning (1853 – 1918)—son, daughter, and son-in-law—Charles Fanning Ayer (1865 – 1956), Katharine Ayer Merrill (1890 – 1981) and Keith Merrill (1887 – 1958). Just a few paces away stands the Ayer Lion, marking the J.C. Ayer lot, where Frederick’s brother James is buried with his family.
William Wood—president of the American Woolen Company and Frederick Ayer’s son-in-law—began purchasing property in Frye Village in the twenties. He turned the area into a self-sufficient town to house the managers and office employees of the American Woolen Company. Download the Virtual Andover app and step back into time as you explore the history of Shawsheen Village and the American Woolen Company.
After her marriage to Donald Gordon in 1900, Louise Ayer Gordon Hatheway, Beatrice’s sister, began purchasing land in Lincoln. Ahead of her time with a focus on organic and sustainable food, Louise wanted Drumlin Farm to be “a place to help educate the public, especially children, about the source of their food as well as the wonders of the natural world.”She left Drumlin Farm, totaling 232 acres, to the Massachusetts Audubon Society which continues to run it as part animal refuge, part organic farm, and part livestock operation.
The Ayer Mansion was unusually progressive when it was commissioned by Frederick and Ellie Banning, and its white-marbled exterior with colorful mosaics and stained glass windows still stands out among the red brick townhouses prevalent along Commonwealth Avenue. Completed in 1902, it was the home where George admitted to Beatrice that he loved her, and where she went on hunger strike to convince her father to let her marry the only man she ever loved. Tours are no longer offered since the house has been put up for sale, but just walking past the last fully Tiffany designed house in the world is worth it.
Created by famed sculptor James Earle Fraser with the input of Beatrice, this statue—a copy of the one at West Point—was unveiled in 1953 along the Charles River Esplanade where George gave his first speech upon his return from WWII on June 7, 1945.
The majestic estate of the Crane family, with a lawn leading to the ocean and spectacular views of the Ipswich River, is reminiscent of Avalon. Make sure to drive down to Crane Beach for a refreshing walk along the water.
Just one example of the exquisite antique shops dotting the area; another recommendation is David Neligan Antiques. Make sure to check opening times or call ahead to make sure you don’t end up in front of a locked door.
My favorite spot to stay in the area, Briar Barn Inn not only offers exceptional service and beautiful rooms with fireplaces, but also one of the best restaurants around. Other good places to eat are the Clam Box of Ipswich and the Boat House Grille.
On June 6, 1944, as the cross-channel invasion of France was underway, all five members of the Patton family sat huddled around the radio.
The Pattons’ eldest daughter Bee listened in Washington, hoping “dad is on the way to get Johnny [her husband] out of prison camp,” while her sister and mother listened at the family home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Ruth Ellen knew her husband was in Italy with the 69th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, but Beatrice hadn’t heard from George in weeks. His letter urging her not to “get excited when the whistle blows” because he wasn’t “in the opening kick off” wouldn’t arrive for weeks.
George (IV) listened at West Point, hoping his father was in on the fight because he knew it was “hell to be on the side lines” for him.
However, General Patton found himself sitting in a trailer on the British coast—he wouldn’t make it to France with the Third Army until about a month later—writing his son a heartfelt letter on the attributes of leadership.
A gentle knock on the hotel room door awoke Second Lieutenant and Mrs. Patton, who had been married for less than twenty-four hours. In walked Ellen Banning Ayer, the bride’s mother, carrying a rose, followed by the bride’s brothers and sisters carrying the breakfast tray.
The seven Ayer siblings—the first four from the union of Frederick Ayer (1822-1918) and Cornelia Wheaton (1835-1878), and the last three from the union of Frederick and Ellen “Ellie” Banning (1853-1918)—were so devoted to each other that Ellie accused them “of behaving at parties like birds on a telegraph wire.”
George Patton knew that when he married Beatrice Ayer, he married all members of her close-knit family. He loved her parents and siblings “as though they were the nearest people on earth to me,” secure in the knowledge that his wife and children would be well-taken care of when he went to war. Not only did the Ayers influence and support him throughout all the ups and downs of his career, they always brought out the best in him.
Ellen Wheaton Ayer Wood (1859 – 1951)
Ellen was a free-spirited woman who spent six months studying at Les Ruches, a young ladies’ school in Fontainebleau founded by Marie Souvestre—she later founded the Allenswood Academy in England and became a great influence on Eleanor Roosevelt. She continued her education at Radcliffe College, but nursing her mother through her final illness scarred the eighteen-year-old Ellen for life.
Left with a delicate constitution but blessed with the heart of a lion, Ellen married William Wood, a dashing man who transformed her father’s company into the premier textile factory in the world. She survived one tragedy after another—her mother’s illness, the death of two of her four children, and the suicide of her husband—becoming a valuable source of comfort to her sister when Beatrice lost both their parents in the span of one month in 1918 and her husband in 1945.
James “Jamie” Cook Ayer (1862 – 1939)
Jamie was the only Ayer who left the North Shore area, moving to New York after graduating from Harvard to pursue a career in medicine. He was a well-respected surgeon at Bellevue Hospital until management passed him over for a promotion, which should have been his based on seniority. He was never the same after he lost the lawsuit against his former employer, despite continuing to run a successful private practice and becoming quite “distinguished as a painter.”
Married to May Hancock Boyd in 1907, Jamie enjoyed an active life sailing and hunting. He frequently hosted his brother-in-law at Shadowland, his Long Island estate, during the 1910s and 1920s when George participated in the local horse races. Dedicated to his family, Jamie traveled wherever someone needed him, whether Egypt in 1897 or England in 1922.
Charles “Chilly” Fanning Ayer (1865 – 1956)
Chilly was a quiet and sensible man who enjoyed the simple life of sitting around the fireplace telling stories. Even though he wanted to go into forestry, he attended Harvard and followed his father into business. A prominent industrialist in the textile and mining business who also ran the family trust with his brother Fred, Chilly was known to be extremely honest and upstanding.
Married to Sara Theodora Ilsley in 1904, the Ayers divided their time between a townhouse on Boston’s Back Bay and Juniper Ridge, their country estate in South Hamilton, where they were prominent members of the Myopia Hunt Club. Chilly was master of the hunt for several years, and both his wife and daughters, who enjoyed being taught by Uncle George, were notable riders. During WWII, Chilly often lent Beatrice a helping hand in South Hamilton and offered an eyewitness account of life on the homefront to George.
Louise Raynor Ayer (1876 – 1955)
Louise never outgrew the shyness caused by the loss of her mother when she was just two years old, and she always preferred a life of simplicity. When she married Donald Gordon—who met Louise tutoring her brother Fred while working his way through Harvard Law School—she settled at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Widowed and left with two young children, she married Conrad Hatheway in 1925, only to be widowed again twelve years later.
Strong of character and sensible like all the Ayers, Louise was the only one of Cornelia’s children still living at home when Beatrice was born, and she became a devoted sister and friend for life. Louise spent most of her time on her farm, educating children about nature and focusing on organic and sustainable food. She left Drumlin Farm to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which continues to run it to this day.
With a long, illustrious list of directorships across various industries and a manager of the Ayers’ trust and the Pattons’ finances, the Harvard graduate was president of Beverly Hospital. As honest as his brother and as courageous as his brother-in-law, Fred was an accomplished equestrian who didn’t shy away from risking life and limb on the polo and hunting field. He married Hilda Proctor Rice, an equally fierce equestrian who never had any problems standing up to her brother-in-law whenever he behaved outrageously.
Not only was he Beatrice’s “joy and delight,” Fred was one of the few people George trusted implicitly and one of his closest friends. Besides his wife, his brother-in-law was the one George asked to come to Heidelberg after his accident in December 1945 and the only other family member present at his funeral. One of the few entrusted with George’s papers, Fred spent many evenings at Green Meadows—the Pattons’ home in South Hamilton, MA, within riding distance of all the siblings—helping Beatrice transcribe the thousands of letters and diary entries.
Katharine “Kay” Ayer (1890 – 1981)
Fun-loving and fashionable Kay was a willing accomplish throughout the Pattons’ courtship and a frequent guest at Army posts until she married Keith Merrill at the outbreak of WWI. She was as helpful to her husband’s career in the Foreign Service as her sister was to George’s in the Army. A graduate of the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, Kay was always socially engaged—for one, she was a founder of the Planned Parenthood Association of Washington.
A great source of strength to Beatrice and her daughters—especially Little Bee when her husband became a POW—Kay was the glue who held the family together. She took over Avalon, the family estate in Pride’s Crossing, MA, when Frederick and Ellie died, and her home in Washington, DC, became a home away from home for Beatrice during WWII. After George’s death, Keith helped organize his brother-in-law’s papers and helped Beatrice fight the proposed (second) move of the General’s grave at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
Pictures taken from the following sources (in order): Before the Colors Fade, Andover Center for History and Culture, Memories of an Unplanned Life, The Button Box, Find a Grave, Private Album, Light and Life.
After crossing the Pacific Ocean twice in a schooner—from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back, in 1935 and 1937, respectively—the Pattons were convinced they wanted to circumnavigate the globe one day. They sold the Arcturus but vowed to build their own schooner, keeping detailed notes in a little book titled “When and If we ever build a boat.”
They didn’t plan to execute the blueprint for their ideal schooner anytime soon, but fate intervened on July 25, 1937. Just a few weeks after the Arcturus’s final crossing—in which they got caught in a violent storm that delayed their arrival over two weeks—George suffered a severe fracture of his right leg while out riding with Beatrice, his daughter, and son-in-law at Green Meadows, their home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
Since doing nothing was “tiresome” for George, Beatrice looked for ways to keep him busy. With only his mind to keep him occupied, now was as good a time as any to commission their dream schooner. Inspired by the Arcturus’s beauty and maneuverability, she contacted its designer, John Alden, one of America’s premier naval architects and the owner of the Alden Design Offices in Boston.
Born in Troy, New York, on January 24, 1884, Alden spent his childhood summers at Sakonnet, Rhode Island. He enjoyed being on the water from a young age, blessed with an inherent knowledge of boats and an uncanny ability to handle them. After a move to Boston in his teens, he forewent an education at MIT and instead taught himself naval architecture. After several stints with local design offices, Alden ventured out on his own in 1909. His first few years in business were a struggle, but he was determined to make a success of the Alden Design Offices.
Colonel Patton could appreciate a man who focused on a singular goal, as well as one who was courageous and adventurous. Alden’s most significant design influence was his ordeal aboard the Fame in 1907. He offered to sail the schooner from Halifax to Boston after its crew was quarantined with smallpox, and he offered to do it with a skeleton crew in the dead of winter. The trip almost ended in disaster, but it made Alden aware of two things: his schooners had to be able to be sailed singlehanded, and he always prioritized seaworthiness over speed.
Instead of meeting with the Pattons in his office as he was wont to do with new clients, Alden traveled to Green Meadows to meet with them. He was particularly impressed with their knowledge and carefully noted their three requirements: a beautiful schooner fast enough for Beatrice to race, sturdy enough to sail the world, and maneuverable enough to be operated by one person. By the end of their meeting, Alden had made an initial sketch, which he passed on to his draftsmen in Boston.
On January 26, 1938, George signed a contract with F. F. Pendleton in Wiscasset, Maine, to build the When and If. His close friend Gordon Prince helped him decide on the name during one of the many evenings he spent at Green Meadows, keeping his friend company throughout his rehabilitation. Talking about the future, George said it no longer was a question of “When and If we build a boat,” but “When the war is over, and If I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.”
Beatrice had been right; the When and If brought her husband purpose during the darkest hours of his convalescence. He stayed in close contact with the individual artisans who were building the When and If up in Maine, bitterly complaining to Clifford Swaine, who drew the lines of design number 669, that he had recently been passed over twice for promotion and if it were to happen a third time, he was going to resign the Army and sail his new boat around Cape Horn to Catalina Island, where he spent his childhood summers.
George was involved with every aspect of his schooner’s completion. He even designed the When and If’s private signal (an identifying flag present on all big yachts) using red, blue, and yellow, the colors of the Tank Corps as chosen by his soldiers in 1917 at its inception. He was so proud of the work that he told Beatrice to go see her in Maine in August 1938 because “if you wait too long she will be all planked and you wont know how well she is built.”
The When and If took about a year to construct and was rigged by Joe Ekeland, a master captain and a lifelong friend of the Pattons who had sailed with them to and from Hawaii. When she launched on February 6, 1939, she measured sixty-three-and-a-half feet, weighed thirty tons, and could sail up to 228 miles per day under the right conditions, with an auxiliary diesel engine for emergencies. She was constructed “like a tank,” with a double hull of mahogany over cedar and enough space below deck to sleep thirteen people comfortably.
After sailing the When and If from Maine to its home at the Manchester Yacht Club, the Pattons made their first extensive trip on June 28, 1939, sailing to Norfolk, Virginia. However, their enjoyment was short-lived, and when the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, George put his precious baby in storage as a precaution. All he could think of were the events of May 1940, when any British vessel worthy of crossing the North Sea was asked to help evacuate the over 330,000 stranded British and French troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.
He referenced his schooner in several letters during the war, most often when he feared being sent home, and he expected his wife to be putting the When and If into commission sooner than expected. His fears never became a reality, and Beatrice didn’t have to refit her until June 1945, when General Patton returned home for a war bond-selling tour. Unfortunately, the little sailing they had time for during his month-long stay also was his last.
Beatrice had always been a natural on the water and a highly experienced sailor who participated in many races along the North Shore and in Hawaii. While the When and If might have stood as a beacon of unfulfilled dreams, Beatrice was out on the water as often as possible, going on long-distance sails with friends and family and teaching her grandchildren to sail along the rocky Manchester Bay. She shared responsibility for the When and If with her brother Frederick “Fred” Ayer, who inherited the schooner when Beatrice passed away in 1953.
When Frederick Ayer passed away in 1972, everyone agreed to donate the schooner to the Landmark School in Beverly to be used in a program for dyslexic children. Eighteen years later, she broke free from her mooring during a gale and crashed into the rocks prevalent along the North Shore. The insurance company deemed the When and If a total loss, but a private investor purchased and lovingly restored her. Her current owners are working hard to make the Pattons’ dream of sailing her around the world come true, raising money through sunset sails and private charters in Key West during wintertime and Salem during summertime.
The inspiration behind the memorable opening scene of Patton is a photograph taken in June 1945 at General Patton’s home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He had just completed a war bond-selling tour throughout the United States and was enjoying his first real vacation since March 1940. Unlike George C. Scott’s Patton, the real George Patton never simultaneously wore all his medals and ribbons. That one day on the back porch of Green Meadows, he only did so at the request of his close friend, Dr. Peer Johnson.
Hollywood’s tendency toward creative license made the Patton family reluctant to consent to a movie, not to mention the anger Beatrice felt toward the press regarding their treatment of her husband in the last few months of his life. In 1950, she began fielding calls from movie studios but categorically refused—as did her children after she died in 1953. However, one man wasn’t willing to give up on the project.
Brigadier General Frank McCarthy was a movie producer who graduated from VMI and enlisted in the Army Reserve at the start of WWII, becoming General Marshall’s aide and eventually the secretary of the General Staff. McCarthy respectfully waited almost twenty years for the Patton family to change their mind, until he and Twentieth Century Fox decided they had waited long enough. Francis Ford Coppola wrote the winning script, which focused on the General’s WWII years, while George C. Scott assumed the title character’s role.
When Patton was finally released in 1970, General Patton’s children were pleasantly surprised. Upon watching the iconic opening scene, his son’s first reaction was consternation that George C. Scott sounded nothing like his father. (You can view a video of General Patton speaking at the LA Memorial Coliseum here.) As the movie progressed, though, he realized Scott did have his Pop’s gestures, and he was particularly moved by the scene of him walking with his men toward Bastogne. The General’s daughter came away with similar feelings, brought to tears not only by Scott’s portrayal but also by the audience’s reaction, and she admitted the family had been wrong in fighting the movie for so long.
In the end, it was George C. Scott who was not happy with the final result, and he refused to accept his Oscar for Best Actor. Ashamed of the movie’s lack of breadth and dimension, he produced The Last Days of Patton in 1986 and reprised his award-winning role to show a more personal side of General Patton alongside his wife, portrayed by Eva Marie Saint. However, no movie or book can ever capture the complex personality of the true General Patton.
In a way, George S. Patton was as much an actor as George C. Scott, playing his role so well that he eventually became one with the character. Beatrice might have found some solace in the fact that Patton helped perpetuate the memory of General Patton. Still, it would have been disappointing to her that George C. Scott did such a good job portraying him that he pretty much replaced her husband in the public’s mind.
Beatrice was one of the few people privy to both the public and the private Patton, two sides which were very hard to reconcile for outsiders. George spent his entire life hidden behind a mask defined by many as “Old Blood and Guts”, but with his wife he could be himself: hunting in the countryside and sailing the Pacific, engrossed by the vastness surrounding him; writing perceptive letters filled with the romance and beauty of everything he saw around him; sitting with her and reading well into the night; writing and reciting poetry, often for the woman he considered “my one love, my body and my life.”
Separated for months and sometimes years at a time, Beatrice Patton followed her husband by newspaper and letter through the Mexican Punitive Expedition, the Great War and the Second World War. Whether he was sitting in a tent in the Mexican desert, the home of the mayor of a French town, or a palace in Sicily, George Patton always made time to write his wife. He wrote so many letters even during the worst of the fighting that Beatrice wondered “how he manages to write me so often.” His letters were colorful and full of details… more details than most officers would feel comfortable sharing with their wives.
Writing Beatrice was the next best thing to having her by his side, even though the censors sometimes made it impossible for George to convey his true feelings. He not only missed her company when he was away from her, but he also missed her sage advice and keen judgment. He depended on her replies and was “disappointed when I don’t get one.” From the beginning of their courtship, she was adept at reading between the lines and knew exactly what to say to bolster his confidence. She never shied away from being totally honest with him, though, and immediately pointed out that he was always taking up too much space in his letters with “that old favorite subject (I).”
The Pattons’ espistolary relationship began in December 1902 when Beatrice sent the seventeen-year-old boy she met over the summer a tie pin of a fox’s head. Forty-three years later, on December 5, 1945, George ended his last letter with, “I may see you before you see this.” The thousands of letters he wrote his wife in between are now part of the George S. Patton Papers at the Library of Congress. Reading them is a bit of a one-sided conversation because most of Beatrice’s letters were either destroyed or kept private, but the collection offers a revealing glimpse into the private thoughts and personal life of General Patton and his wife.
Note on spelling: “For some reason my brain seems to be absolutely non receptive when words are conserned,” George wrote his father from West Point. He agonized over the problem, thinking himself stupid and lazy until he decided it took more imagination to spell a word “several different ways” than continuously spelling it the same way. Whether he suffered from dyslexia will never be known for sure, but it was up to Beatrice in the future to correct important letters and papers.
As to Kuhlborns self there is little to say except that owing to his immortal nature he lived through the foot-ball season and did not even brake a bone (worse luck) and that he is now devoting more time than he should to making a polo team; (for above all things he is desirus of an early and glorious death).”
January 10, 1903 – George’s first letter to Beatrice
I wish you were here all the season for some how I work harder when you are around. Should I fail to do some thing please cuss me out once in a while will you I must do some thing.
September 9, 1908
It is strange that I dont get your point of view on life. Realy all joking aside I don’t expect ever to be sixty not that it is old but simply that I would prefer to wear out from hard work before then. Nor do I care for a home and friends and peace and a regular order of life. I would like to fight up to the top and then go oﬀ the edge and rest in a better at least quieter place than earth.
February 21, 1909
There are few d—f— husbands who write twice a day to their wives even when their wives wear such low dresses as B [Jr.] says you do. Please keep it till I get home or get a lower one. George.
October 26, 1916
This is the last letter I shall write you from Mexico. I have learned a lot about my profession and a lot how much I love you. The first was necessary the second was not.
January 29, 1917
I want you to be the same age when I get back as when I left. Also die your hair for I don’t like gray hair at all.
February 8, 1918
When this war is over I am going to insist on using a single bed for both of us at the same time. There is perhaps more than one reason for this, but the only one which the censor and modisty will allow me to mention is that I am tired of being cold and especially of getting into a large and empty bed full of cold sheets. Hence you will have to go to bed first.
February 27, 1918
Well this is the second letter I have written you to day. I only wish it were not necessary and that I could hold you in my arms and squeeze you. I have almost forgotten how soft you are even with corsets on to say nothing of your softness in your wedding nighty. I love you so B.
March 19, 1918
It seems a heartless thing to say but I think that Ellie is happier than she would have been to have continued on with out your father. They were as nearly one as is possible to be — as nearly as one as we are. I do not think I would care much about keeping on if you were gone. Because if you were not around to admire what I did what the rest thought would make little difference.
April 11, 1918 – George writes Beatrice from France upon her mother’s death
If I tried to tell you how much I love you I would get writers cramp.
March 21, 1925
At polo I had an off day in the second period Walter ran into me, it was my fault, and hurt my leg quite a lot though not seriously. Then in the fourth period Bull fell and gave me quite a spill but again with no bad effects…Don’t worry about me as I am o.k. And simply tell you so as to keep my Promise.
August 19, 1927
I hope I did not leave you with the impression that I thought you were either a poor sailor or mother. I think you are perfect in these rolls as in all others. I will even “bend” so much asto sail with you in the Dantesk if you want me. I love you. George.
July 21, 1930
From my view point as “wedding guest” I want to say again what a realy great organizer I think you are. No show could have gone better and it was a very large show too. Also no mother of a bride ever looked better or cried less.
July 7, 1934
I doubt that I will be killed or even wounded but one can never tell. It is all a question of destiny… Well when you get this you will either be a widow or a radio fan, I trust the latter. In either case I love you.
July 5, 1943
I appreciate your loyalty and miss your aid, but your spirit is with me. I love you.
December 21, 1943
Just had a phone from Beedle to see him in the morning. I always get things like that on Sundays or New Years etc, so I am used to it. Apparently much umbrage has been taken to my last, wholy casual remarks, and I may be able to go sailing sooner than I had thought, but the Chesapeake in the spring is said to be lovley. If I have caused you added worry, I am sorry.
April 30, 1944
I know my defects but don’t know those of others and of course I have had great luck, never forgotten you as the greatest.
June 24 1944
Yesterday I drove in a peep in zero weather for about eight hours. When I came in I was so cold I got in a hot tub and to give a tropical aspect, turned on the sun lamp. And left it on for about 20 minutes. It was some 12 feet away, but is pretty potent. My eyes were already bad from the snow. I woke up at 1145 in great pane with my eyes running like a spigot. I got up and woke Col. Odom, the Dr. who lives with us – my personal physician? He put cold barasic compresses on for two hours, gave me a shot of morphine and a sleeping powder. I stayed in bed till noon in a dark room, and now the eyes are well. I am like a puppy, always sticking my nose into trouble. The night of the 28 at 0130 our time, which is 5:30 your time, I dreamed I was in a boat in a muddy creek and had just started to back down stream when you came running over the mud and called “Georgie” the way you do. Were you in any trouble?
January 31, 1945
Your telegram . . . and your modest estimate of me means more than the opinion of the rest of the world .
May 9, 1945
Your radio about asking for an ofﬁcial investigation . . . felt just like a look out of your brave loyal eyes.
I deliberately refrained from commenting on the controversy regarding the death of General Patton because there is nothing controversial about it. Since, however, it seems to be the thing people focus on most, I thought I might expound on my article “A freak accident, a devoted wife, and the death of General Patton“. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the straightforward narrative—based on hard facts and not unsubstantiated rumors, which read like historical fiction—makes it abundantly clear that his untimely death was nothing more than an unfortunate accident.
Accidents involving public figures always fascinate the public, especially when the public figure is as controversial as General Patton. The notion “that such a warrior should die in such a routine fashion” is one many people grapple with—including his wife Beatrice—and partly contributed to the enduring belief that General Patton was assassinated.
There is, however, no credible evidence that this was the case (just like there is no evidence General Patton would have ever run for political office. He was very much aware of his own strengths and weaknesses, and governing was not one of them). No doubt many wanted him dead—an entirely different matter—but simple fate dealt General Patton the fatal blow long before an assassin’s bullet ever could.
A lot of damned fools say I have political ambitions. What are they talking about? I have no kind of political ambition at all. No—take that back—maybe I’d like to be mayor of Junction City, Kansas.
Saturday Evening Post June 23, 1945
An unplanned trip
Removed from command of his beloved Third Army, General Patton had been in charge of the Fifteenth Army since October 1945. Contemplating whether to retire or resign, his closest friends advised him not to decide until he had a chance to sit down with his wife, Beatrice, and brother-in-law, Frederick Ayer. Generals Hobart Gay (Patton’s chief of staff) and Geoffrey Keyes (commander of the Seventh Army) advised him to go home for Christmas despite the publicity that would inadvertently accompany his return, and joined him at Bad Nauheim on the eve of December 8 to say goodbye.
To cheer the General, who had been feeling lower than the arse of the “species of whale which is said to spend much of its time lying on the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean,” General Gay suggested they go pheasant hunting the next day. His account of December 9, 1945, can be found in the Patton Papers at the Library of Congress, as can General Patton’s medical files containing minute details of his last days, and the recollections of Colonel Spurling, the neurosurgeon who arrived with Beatrice Patton from the United States.
As General Gay concludes, “[S]uch things are almost always the result of fate because so many things enter into the timing of an accident like this.” No one knew the route the 1938 Cadillac would take, especially since General Patton added a last-minute stop at Saalburg to explore an old Roman fort dating back to 90 A.D. Neither could anyone have foreseen that he would change seats twice along the way, the last time while the car was stopped at a security checkpoint.
Whether the official accident report is missing or lacking in detail, the initial investigation attributed the accident to carelessness on the part of the drivers. If they were never disciplined for their actions, it was because General Patton did not want them to be. He neither held Pfc. Horace Woodring nor T/5 Robert Thompson responsible and was unwilling to ruin two young lives over what he knew to be an accident.
A constant prescence
Paralyzed from the neck down, General Patton spent the next twelve days in traction at the 130th Station Hospital. Eager to be left alone but dependent on others for even his most basic needs, he had at least one nurse in his room twenty-four-seven. During the day, Beatrice and (later) her brother Fred spent most of their time at his bedside. At night, Captain William Duane Jr., a young neurosurgeon, listened as his patient reminisced about the first anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
General Patton did not need protection from an assassin; he needed protection from desperate reporters who even posed as patients and orderlies. Hundreds camped outside the 130th Station Hospital, and the more brazen ones “resorted to any type of trickery to get a story.” The thought of one of those “damn fools” slipping into his room to take a picture mortified George, and an armed MP stood guard outside his room.
A pulmonary embolism
When asked by Colonel Spurling on December 21, Beatrice declined to have an autopsy performed on her husband. She was thoroughly satisfied that everything had been done to save him, and she accepted that he had died of a pulmonary embolism brought on by the accident. She was also satisfied with the Army’s report that no foul play was involved, but in later years she “got so irritated by people claiming that he had been murdered.”
As Ruth Ellen, the General’s youngest daughter, once said, “The sensation seekers in the media and in the cheap books all want to think he was murdered because its more exciting and people will notice them.” After Beatrice’s death, people regularly contacted her family, claiming “they had done it, or that they knew who had done it.” Still, every Patton was unequivocal and unanimous in their reply: General Patton “wasn’t murdered.”
It was maddening to go “over it and over it with hundreds of media people,” George IV said once, but the accident was nothing more than “an incredible irony.” Ruth Ellen considered it “fate,” something that “was just destined to be.” She said it best in a letter to an interested party years after her parents’ death, “All I can say is, why can’t they leave him alone with his glory——he earned his pay, he deserves to sleep in peace. Dulce et decorum est pro patria more [It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country].”
It was said that men who came face-to-face with the Tiffany Chapel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (a.k.a. the World’s Columbian Exposition) doffed their hats in reverence. Whether the chapel’s mosaic columns and stained glass windows had that effect on Frederick Ayer is unknown, but his wife Ellie–a famed horticulturalist in the Boston area–undoubtedly would have been equally impressed with Tiffany’s ability to showcase the diverse flora of the United States in a vase. The Magnolia Vase, also shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition, depicted pinecones and needles to symbolize the North and East, cacti to symbolize the Southwest, and magnolias to symbolize the South and West.
When the Ayers moved from Lowell to Boston at the turn of the century, they commissioned Alfred John Manning and Louis Comfort Tiffany to build their dream home at 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Neither Frederick nor Ellie “made any pretense of being ‘Proper Bostonians,’” and the five-story mansion was a slap in the face of the Boston Brahmins, the traditional upper class who ruled Commonwealth Avenue. The home was “unusually progressive for turn-of-the-century Boston,” not surprising since Frederick’s “thoughts were always of the future.” Commissioning Manning and Tiffany to build an Art Nouveau-influenced home inspired by the family’s recent travels to Europe and the Orient came as easy to him as investing in Alexander Bell’s telephone and the New York subway.
The Ayer-Tiffany Mansion lies west of Massachusetts Avenue, and its white-marbled exterior with colorful mosaics and stained glass windows still stands out among the red brick townhouses prevalent along Commonwealth Avenue. Tiffany specified almost every detail of the house, from walls to light fixtures, and even designed custom furniture. His favorite motif throughout the house was the lotus, a detail that blended well with the Ayers’ exotic decorations they brought back from their grand tour. Ellie’s style and personality were reflected throughout the house, nowhere more so than in the foyer staircase, which doubled as a stage. The wall was a mosaic trompe l’oeil of an ancient Greek temple, the columns “composed of semi-transparent glass backed by gold foil.”
Forty-three years later–on the day General Patton returned victorious from the war in Europe and Boston welcomed him as a hero–Beatrice Ayer Patton’s mind filled with memories as the motorcade drove by 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Her family had sold the home a long time ago, but the memories remained: the living room with the grand piano she played with remarkable skill; the foyer, which acted like a stage; the library where George had finally admitted his love; and the third-floor bedroom in which she had locked herself when her father was reluctant to give his permission to marry.