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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

Patton never conceived of any other career for himself. Again and again he wrote passionately of his desire to become a successful soldier. “I am fool enough to think that I am one of those who may teach the world its value,” he wrote.

In the summer of 1908 eight first classmen were expelled after being caught hazing [defined by academy officials as physical punishment, not the normal harassment of plebes, physical hazing is forbidden]. Although he saw no harm in what his classmates had done, Patton seemed disinclined to haze, preferring instead to enforce discipline. When the commandant, Lt. Col. Robert L. Howze (who later as a general presided over Col. Billy Mitchell’s famous court martial in 1925), demoted most of the first class cadet officers during a shakeup in the summer of 1908, Patton was unaffected.


His fifth and final year at West Point was his most successful. At the Annual Field Day in June 1908 he established a new school record in the 220-yard hurdles, won the 120-yard hurdles and rounded out the most triumphant day of his athletic career at West Point as the runner-up in the 220-yard dash. (14) His feat won him a place in the cadet yearbook, the Howitzer, alongside the fifteen other wearers of the coveted letter “A.” (15) Patton also shot “Expert” with the rifle and continued to excel in swordsmanship. The text accompanying the photograph of those first classmen who had won their letters included this notation: “It is said that Georgie Patton has compiled for future generals, a rule for winning any battle under any combination of circumstances.” (16)

Patton had indeed composed a list of the traits of a future general. Many years later, after his son donated part of his father’s vast collection of books to the Friends of the West Point Library, the following notation was unearthed on the final page of a textbook called Elements of Strategy: “End of last lesson in Engineering. Last lesson as Cadet, Thank God.” Inscribed in the back cover was:

Qualities of a Great General

1. Tactically aggressive (loves a fight)

2. Strength of character

3. Steadiness of purpose

4. Acceptance of responsibility

5. Energy

6. Good health and strength

//signed// George Patton
April 29, 1909 (17)

Although Patton’s early writings reflect brilliance, he had yet to demonstrate to his contemporaries that his fiery intensity was anything more than the ravings of a temperamental opportunist. To the end of his cadet days he remained a dogmatic and unpopular cadet, a young man on the make with a reputation as a “quilloid.” (18) [“Quill” is cadet slang for a deficiency report, noting a violation of academy rules.]

Patton’s stubborn independence was demonstrated one day at the noon meal when he led the Corps of Cadets into the mess hall and, as they stood at attention by their tables awaiting the “Take Seats” command, an unpopular Tac officer entered. Cadet custom was to stand silently at attention until the officer got the message and left the room. Patton, however, believed that any officer, whatever his alleged misdeeds, was deserving of proper respect for his rank. On this occasion, when the Corps began to give the officer the silent treatment, Patton became so disgusted that he marched them back out of the mess hall. (19)

Historian Martin Blumenson assesses Patton’s often-stormy relations with his classmates: “They accepted him generally with affection and admiration for his sincerity, candor and fairness. They smiled in condescension over his naive earnestness and enthusiasm. They believed that he tried too hard, had too much spirit, and they were uncomfortable with his obsessive concern with future glory, which he could not resist confessing from time to time. He had no close friends.” (20)

Reflecting on his five years at West Point, Patton recalled his first day as a plebe. “How scared I was that day … how earnest in my desire to succeed. I failed a little and did not succeed in much . . . but I did my best as I found it.”

After five grueling years the ordeal of West Point ended on June 11, 1909 when Patton was commissioned as a second lieutenant of cavalry. His final class standing was number 46 out of the total of 103 who graduated. (21) If that seemed average, it was not, for had it not been for his dyslexia he undoubtedly would have graduated near the top of his class.

With his dream of a commission as a cavalry officer fulfilled, he left West Point for an uncertain future in the Lilliputian Regular Army of the time. Patton had good reason to be proud, not only had he overcome what he thought was his natural stupidity, but had achieved the all-important first step in the long road toward fulfilling his destiny of becoming the celebrated warrior whose statue now guards the West Point library.

Patton’s early writings substantiate that the West Point years were far more than an essential period of preparation for his army career. When the time came, Patton put into practice the theories of how men should be led and battles fought that were fostered here. They came to fruition in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.

To his death, Patton loved West Point and treasured what it had taught him. The words “duty, honor, country” were no mere symbols but the living embodiment of his beliefs which were nurtured at this institution.

Patton always wanted to be buried here at West Point. When he died an unsoldierly death in December 1945 after a senseless traffic accident in war-torn Germany, his wife intended to fulfill his wishes until dissuaded by his lifelong friend, Lt. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes. Instead, he was buried in the American military cemetery outside Hamm, Luxembourg beside the soldiers of the Third Army he led so well. His place of burial did not matter, for his spirit continues to live on at West Point.


* * *

A final note: Since the publication of Patton: A Genius For War in 1995 I have had numerous contacts with dyslexics, some at book signings or public events, others via letter. All have said that Patton’s success in overcoming dyslexia gave them hope. Thus, to his many achievements we can add one he never would have imagined: role model.

References – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. at West Point

Patton’s dyslexia led him to frequently omit punctuation and misspell words. In order not to clutter the text the use of sic has been omitted. Unless otherwise cited, all correspondence and diary entries are in the Patton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. They are also in Chapters 6-8 of my 1995 biography Patton: A Genius For War.

1. See Dr. Harold S. Levinson’s, Smart But Feeling Dumb (New York, 1984).
2. Quoted in Steve Dietrich, “The Professional Reading of General George S. Patton, Jr.,” The Journal of Military History, Oct. 1989, and Box 5, Patton Papers.
3. GSP to his father, George S. Patton II, July 3, 1904.
4. Ibid., Aug. 15, 1904.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., July 31, 1904.
7. Ibid., Aug. 21, 1904.
8. Ibid., July 17, 1904.
9. Ibid., Sept. 4, 1904.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. GSP to Beatrice Ayer, July 10, 1905.
13. Ibid., Patton’s principles were: (1) Cut line[s] of communication. (2) Cause [the] enemy to form front to flank. (3) Operate on internal lines. (4) Separate bodies of enemy and fight in Detail; and (5) Direct attack. This observation also appeared in his notes: “A Saxon can die without a murmer. A French man can die laughing. But only a Norseman can laugh as he kills.”
14. Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers, vol. 1, (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1974), p. 147.
15. 1909 USMA Howitzer.
16. Ibid.
17. Colonel Roger H. Nye, USA-Ret., “The Patton Library Comes to West Point,” in Friends of the West Point Library Newsletter, 1988, and lecture, “The Professional Reading of General George S. Patton, Jr.,” April 1988. Lt. Col. G. J. Fieberger, a USMA Professor of Engineering Elements of Strategy wrote the standard cadet text of Patton’s period.
18. Thomas J. Fleming, West Point (New York: Morrow, 1969), p. 288. Patton had in fact written his own rules for “quilling” in his notebook, called “Essentials of Quill.” Designed for himself as rules he attempted to follow, they later became tenets by which Patton enforced his own standard of discipline: “1. Start the day you enter. 2. Do every thing possible to attract attention. 3. Brace hard [i.e. assume the rigid position of attention demanded of plebes] and at all times. The less you are spoken to the more you should brace. 4. Always be very neat and when you get any new clothes let every one know it. 5. Do with all the snap and power you possess whatever you do. 6. When ordered to do a thing carry out the spirit. 7. Brace through publication of orders [i.e. the daily reading of important announcements in the cadet mess hall] and when ‘at ease’ and never stop quilling [i.e. report other cadets for rule infractions].”
19. Martin Blumenson, Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1885-1945 (New York: Morrow, 1985), p. 58. 20. Blumenson, The Patton Papers, vol. 1, p. 176. 21. Patton’s final class standings in his last academic report were (out of 103 cadets graduated in the Class of 1909 on June 11 that year): Civil and Military Engineering – 37; Law – 80; Ordnance and Science of Gunnery – 62; Drill Regulations – 5; Practical Military Engineering – 10; Conduct, First Class – 16. He accumulated 42 demerits for the year 1908/09. (Official Register of the Officers and Cadets of the USMA, June 1909, USMA Special Collections, and Blumenson, The Patton Papers, vol. 1, p. 175.)

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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