Sunday, May 6, 2012

Chivalry and family heroes helped shape Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

Col. George S. Patton, Jr serving at Camp Meade.

It was after his aunt read him Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe that he ultimately revealed the great effect her instruction was having. He [George S. Patton, Jr.] confided to her that he’d written a poem—in his head, for he still couldn’t write. Astonished, she transcribed his recitation with the reverent wonder of a medium receiving an oracle:

Forward Knight! Forward Knight!

Go and do your best, Knight,

In the tournament.

Forward Knight! Forward Knight!

Don’t lose the prize, Knight,

On jousting day.

Forward Knight! Forward Knight!

Knock down the champion, Knight,

Of the lot, lot, lot.

Nannie dated the poem November 30, 1892, and placed it with other keepsakes of Georgie in her bedroom bureau. On his recent seventh birthday he’d announced that instead of a fireman, he now would be a soldier when he grew up….

Memories of his father [George Smith Patton I] were only part of Papa’s [George S. Patton II] store of family lore and legend. Perceiving Georgie’s [George S. Patton, Jr.] ambition as a spark that might indeed become fire, he told his son stories linking the family’s illustrious past to Georgie’s hoped-for future. When reading the classics, Papa skipped around to the good parts here and there. Likewise in his fireside stories, he shifted from era to era, anecdote to anecdote.

The effect was to create an array of ancestral figures gathered into a single immortal gallery: Catherine DuBois, Robert Patton, Philip Slaughter, George and Tazewell Patton. Papa’s voice was proud as he told his stories, but its wistful undertone implied unmistakably that he himself wasn’t part of that gallery, wasn’t worthy of it—an admission guaranteed to stoke his loyal son’s fire to still higher heat.

Robert H. Patton, The Pattons: A Personal History of an American Family (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1994), pp. 89-90, 92.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 174

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