For General Patton, there was nothing more beautiful than a well-executed dress parade, especially when his wife composed the music. Beatrice Patton possessed an “artistic temperament” and an ear not only for languages but also for music. She had a perfect understanding of harmony, “played the piano by ear, could transpose as she played, liked [African American] ballads and folk songs” and composed accompaniments to Kipling’s poetry.
A gifted pianist, Beatrice gave her first public piano recital when she turned eleven in 1897 and seriously considered pursuing a professional career. She always played after dinner growing up — a genuine delight to her father, Frederick Ayer — and continued the custom for the rest of her life, no matter where she was.
Wherever there was a piano, Beatrice could be found calling out to her audience, “What does anyone want to sing next?” When her daughters Bee and Ruth Ellen became Baptists, she immediately caught on to the harmonious hymns. Many a night, The Old Rugged Cross, Beatrice’s favorite, reverberated through the Patton home, wherever it may be.
Her musical talents were in stark contrast to her husband’s, who once stood at attention thinking he heard the Star-Spangled Banner while, in reality, it was a funeral march. George “evolved” a theory of his own “that people who are not musical are usually not good at languages because their ear is so constructed that the fine differences of sounds do not affect them hence they cannot pronounce.”
Beatrice tried to teach him to sing during their courtship, but a tone deaf George was pretty “hopeless” and could barely distinguish between the different bugle calls. “He didn’t have a musical ear but he liked music,” Beatrice later recalled, and they occasionally attended the opera together. On Sunday evenings, when she sat down at the piano to sing with the children, George stayed behind in his study to read.
In 1941, while George was commander of the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia, Beatrice composed the 2nd Armored Division March. She figured a rousing march was just what was needed to help boost the morale of the thousands of new recruits arriving at Fort Benning every month. She collaborated with the Army Band and composer Peter DeRose — his wife was “the Original Ukulele Lady” May Singhi Breen — to create the piece meant for a full military band.
Infusing the march with her husband’s personality, who rode through town like a charioteer heralding his arrival with tooting horns and wailing sirens, the 2nd Armored Division March opened with gunshots and a blaring siren. There’s no doubt who inspired her to write the lyrics:
We’re Uncle Samuel’s men of the great fighting forces
You’ll hear from us now and then we’re the New Armored Corps
We move to the fight like the stars in their courses
And all we required to know is where is the war!
Armored cars the fighting tanks,
The new armored corps;
Manned inside and out by Red Blood Yanks,
come join us if you want to go to WAR!
Glorious! Glorious! In War we’re ever victorious.
We move right in and fight like sin,
In the great Armored Corps.