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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

Free of recriminations from his understanding parents, he looked forward to his second year at West Point with a semblance of hope that he might eventually graduate. “It is scarcely possible that I may ever again be so happy and so sad at the same time.” (12) Back home in southern California on leave that summer Patton had time for reflection. He thought about is future and of his determination to succeed. In a small black notebook he began recording a hodgepodge of thoughts, poetry, principles of war, diagrams, and admonitions, all of which affirmed that his terrible first year at West Point had matured him. Among these notes are inscribed five principles that would guide him and become a prescription for success as an officer and a commander of troops:

•Genius is an immense capacity for taking pains.


•Always do more than is required of you . . .

•What then of death? Is not the taps of death but first call to the reveille of eternal life?

•We live in deeds not years.

•You can be what you will to be. (13)

When Patton returned to West Point in 1905 to begin his military career all over again, not surprisingly, one of the first notations was: “Do your damndest always.” To his death, Patton never understood that during his first year at West Point he had indeed “done his damndest” and had fallen victim, not to stupidity or laziness, but to dyslexia.

Although exempt from the hazing and harassment of plebe life [re-admitted cadets, like Patton, who had already finished plebe year are traditionally “recognized” – accepted as equals — by upperclassmen and excused from undergoing plebe hazing and persecution], in his second year at West Point Patton existed in a sort of limbo where he was neither plebe nor third classman. He studied hard and for the first time saw his efforts rewarded. Patton began to anticipate the delights of advancement to the third class (sophomore year) and set his sights on promotion to corporal, not just any corporal, but first corporal, the most prestigious office in his class. “I think I shall die when I get it.”


The year ended on a high note when Patton not only routinely passed his exams with grades in the top third of his class but also was selected second corporal. It was predictable that as a cadre man in the plebe summer camp of 1906, Patton was overzealous and managed to irritate virtually everyone, from his classmates to the Tac officers (“Tactical Officers” are commissioned officers in charge of cadet companies) and of course, the poor plebes who ran afoul of him. He soon learned that harassing plebes did not “afford me much amusement as I had hoped.”

He was excited by the opportunity to be in command but seemed to have no concept of when enough was enough. “I believe that I reported [i.e. turn in a cadet for a rule infraction] more men than any other Officer of the Day this summer,” he told he future wife, Beatrice Ayer, who admonished him not to become over-exuberant. Patton’s first taste of authority ended in shock and disappointment when he was demoted from second to sixth corporal in late August.

Although angry and hurt, Patton displayed no inclination to change his basic precept of demanding very high standards of those under his care. “It is true that they don’t like me but when I get out in front of them the foolishness stops,” he proclaimed.

In March 1907, Patton regained his second corporal stripes and jovially wrote to his father, “I take the opportunity of telling you I am in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral, the very living model of a modern Second Corporal.”

Academically, he remained a mediocre student and stood near the bottom of his class in French, in the middle in drawing and math, and was a borderline student in both French and Spanish. Nevertheless, he successfully passed his exams and was promoted to the rank of cadet sergeant major in the Second Class.

He expounded that to become a great soldier entailed learning from history and to his death never lost his passion for reading and learning from the past. Throughout his West Point days Patton continued to dream of glory and triumph in his chosen profession. His words of advice to himself bore the stamp of maturity far beyond his years, and later became the essence of his military philosophy. An entry in his notebook in Nov. 1907 served as a vivid exhortation of the inner fire that burned within:

”George Patton you have seen what the enthusiasm of men can mean . . . You have done your damndest and failed now you must do your damndest and win. Remember that is what you live for. Oh you must! You have got to do some thing! Never stop until you have gained the top or a grave.”

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  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.


      • 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.


  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