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Posted on Nov 14, 2006 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Gen. George S: Patton, Jr. at West Point, 1904-1909

By Carlo D'Este

In the summer of 1904, Patton confided to his father, “I belong to a different class, a class perhaps almost extinct or one which may never have existed yet [is] as far removed from these lazy, patriotic, or peace soldiers as heaven is from hell. I know that my ambition is selfish and cold yet it is not a selfishnes[s] for instead of sparing me, it makes me exert my self. . . . I may be a dreamer but I have a firm conviction I am not and in any case I will do my best to attain what I consider – wrongly perhaps – my destiny.” (3)

Patton relished the pomp and ceremonial aspects of military life and thought West Point was less oppressive than VMI. During the summer of 1904 two generals were buried at the academy and it spawned in him romantic visions of great warriors and death. “I certainly think it is worth going in the army just to get a military funeral. I would like to get killed in a great victory and then have my body born between the ranks of my defeated enemy escorted by my own regiment and have my spirit come down and revel in hearing what people thought of me.” (4)

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From his first days as a cadet, Patton was a loner, deemed arrogant and remote, with few friends and a great many detractors. Whether it was a vendetta or mere hazing, three cadets attacked Patton during plebe camp while on guard duty. When one attempted to seize his rifle, Patton threatened to bayonet the first persons to attack him. Fortunately, the catch on his bayonet slipped and it retracted into its sheath or he might have killed the cadet. Henceforth he was left alone. (5)

At first, he was not particularly tolerant of the West Point system. “Our whole class will have more demerits than any preceding class,” he said, “for since the upper class-men are not allowed to speak to us or correct us, they naturally bone us and they are quite right. Indeed I think that the system which they have adopted here of absolute forbearance toward plebes will ruin the academy in a very few years.” (6)

His constant complaining notwithstanding, Patton soon realized that West Point was indeed special. “The absolute honor of this place is amazing,” he wrote. “There is nothing but truth here and even the worst of the rabble to whom the name ‘plebean’ is most fitly applied soon learn this and conform to it.” (7)

The intense training was physically exhausting and the hazing often infuriating, but what bothered Patton the most during the summer of 1904 was his uncertain academic prospects. “We begin studying on the first of september. I shall be rather glad when we do this and I at last find out just what my chances of being able to stick are.” (8)

Plebe year academics were especially difficult for Cadet George S. Patton, who lamented that English was pure memorization and: “pretty hard for me because it is simply grammar and I know nothing of it. . . I don’t believe that there is any possibility of my being found [i.e. expelled], at least this year, for there are some absolute fools in the present third class who got through. You should see this place at night it is absolutely soundless yet there are five hundred men in it and every one of them studying like hell.” (9)

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Patton was torn between an ability to see future greatness for himself and his dyslexia, which served to unceasingly implant the notion that he was both ordinary and stupid. Thus, his plebe year was an uneven struggle to overcome an affliction about which he had no conception. “I have always thought that I was a military genius or at least that I was or would be a great general,” he wrote his father soon after classes started. “Well . . . at present I see little in which to base such a belief. I am neither quicker nor brighter in any respect than other men nor do they look upon me as a leader as it is said Napoleon’s class mates looked upon him. In fact the only difference between me and other people is that I have ideals with out strength of character enough to live up to them and they have not even got them.” (10)

His bravado was actually part of the wall he erected in defense of his dyslexia. Patton’s classmates perceived his single-mindedness as naked ambition. There was nothing wrong with aspiring to eventually become the first general in his class, but it was tactless to let this become common knowledge in a boastful fashion. Patton also bragged that he would letter at West Point in football, a feat he was unable to accomplish. His belief that he was different from other cadets, that he possessed a unique sense of commitment they lacked, that he was special where they were simply ordinary, was bound to breed resentment — and it did.

When the upperclassmen learned he had been at VMI, the hazing intensified. Other military institutions were regarded as “tin schools,” none more so than VMI. During the summer of 1904 Patton was frequently and often forcibly reminded that he was now at West Point. His classmates soon scornfully dubbed him with the nickname he loathed, “Georgie.”

Although Patton struggled with academic subjects, he had no such problems on the parade ground where he was far more comfortable and nearly perfect. When it came to soldiering, Patton was unequivocal, declaring that, “God willing . . . and given the chance I will carve my name on some thing bigger than a section room bench.”

Yet, as he continued to struggle in the classroom, Patton openly spoke of his uncertainty of surviving academically. One of the daily dilemmas faced by dyslexics is that others believe they are merely stupid. There are few torments worse than being publicly identified as “slow.” The harder he tried the worse he seemed to do. What he could not understand was that his problem was not his study habits, but his dyslexia.

Patton tried out for the football team but was cut and played intramural football for his cadet company, vowing he would try harder than ever the following year to make the varsity team. He never did. In the spring of 1905, as the time neared when his progress would be formally noted, he wrote, “The best thing – the only thing now left for me to do is by doubly hard work [to] live down the effects of a poor start.” (11)

Patton approached his year-end exams determined to do his best. It was not enough; he failed mathematics and was “found” – expelled, but immediately permitted to re-enter with the following class. This meant he had to repeat his plebe year.

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10 Comments

  1. Patton was an amazing man. He is a symbol of our freedom, here, in the United States of America. We love you Patton. (speaking on behalf of all fellow Americans.

    • GO AMERICA

      • NO CRAP

    • Yes! A true leader. Natural, raw, and not politically driven. Very refreshing in a leader. Why Eisenhower subjugated a man far more superior than himself, is beyond me. It takes a certain degree of narcissism to produce that person who possesses the spirit of a champion. Patton’s spirit was all encompassing as a leader; to this very day he still stands a head above the rest. His romanticism made him a true individual, capable of great insight and perspectives necessary to accommodate the objectives of our nation.

  2. I LOVE AMERICA

  3. MURICA!!

  4. In my patriotic USAF endeavors I have always struggled often feeling isolated and that others are out for my position.At the Department of Veterans Affairs Police with corruption it was true.I wonder if I am like Patton,with the same condition. The Fighting Pattons are great Americans. I call my family the Fighting Bennetts,unfortunately and Dad, his brother and his nephew were all disabled World War Two veterans passing away early,with CPT Stephen Bennett serving in WW1 and WW2.

  5. This article is poorly researched. Although it describes Patton and dyslexia quite well it is wrong about Leonardo dad Vinci and Albert Einstein being dyslexic. These are old myths the author is parroting. If I didn’t already know something about Patton or dyslexia I’d be very skeptical of the entire article.

    Yes. All of da Vinci’s personal notes are written in mirror image. He did that on purpose so people could not read his material.

    The people who say Einstein was dyslexic are banking on the myth that he failed algebra in high school. He didn’t fail algebra in high school. He failed in entrance exam for a tough engineering college that he took at the age of 16. He was two years younger than the typical applicant and he didn’t want to be an engineer. From what he said later in life, he may have took the test just to please his dad and failed it on purpose.

    I am dyslexic myself and a big World War II buff. I’d love to be able to claim da Vinci and Einstein but, the historical record just does not support that.

  6. Holly crap! I did not realize who I was talking to. I did not see who the author of the article was. Carlo D’Este is a way better historian than I would ever dream of being.

    I am not retracting my statements about him being wrong about Einstein and Da Vinci. However, I am going to double check that.

    However, I am going to retract my statement about questioning the veracity of the rest of the article. Hell, a huge chunk of what I know about Patton I only know because of Carlo D’Este. Him and Martin Bluemsom.

    Carlo D’Este», if you read this. Please forgive the harshness of my previous post.

  7. I am researching the U S military men who influenced the outcome of the U S foreign wars as cadets and midshipmen of the US military Academy and US Naval Academy. I hoped to draw similarities among them in the context of ” honor/ courage / country” and publish it as a historian

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