General George Patton (lower right), at a “welcome home” parade; Los Angeles, June 1945.
It’s fitting on Memorial Day, 2014, to remember someone like George Patton, who was at once heroic and controversial. For example, there’s a scene in the movie Patton, where the general spoke to a group of Army chaplains who’ve been touring the front. Part of the tour included Patton’s private quarters, where one chaplain noticed a Bible. Knowing the tremendous responsibilities at stake, the chaplain asked if Patton actually had time to read that Bible.
Patton said, “I sure do. Every Goddamn day.”
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He cursed like a sailor and believed in reincarnation, but Patton was a devout Episcopalian, as shown in the film starring George C. Scott.
For example, Patton was at a low point in his career during World War II, after the “slapping incident” in Sicily. He was almost sent home in disgrace, but he found comfort in Psalm 63.
The film showed Patton praying, then going out to apologize to the troops. As he went, he recited Psalm 63, “humble and defiant.” As abbreviated – and in the King James version, naturally – the psalm went like this: “O God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsteth for Thee… But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth. They shall fall by the sword, they shall be a portion for foxes… Everyone that sweareth by Him shall glory. But the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.”
Later in the war, after his Third Army helped overrun German forces in France, the Germans counter-attacked in the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge. The coldest winter in Europe’s history helped the Germans with terrible weather; snow, ice, and fog. It kept the planes of the Army Air Corps grounded, unable to help. It got so bad Patton ordered his chaplain to write a “weather prayer.” The prayer, he thought, would help his tanks break through to the 101st Airborne, surrounded in Bastogne. The prayer went like this:
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Patton also believed in reincarnation. According to websites, he believed that he had served in previous lives as a soldier under Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), and later as Julius Caesar himself. To a nephew Patton once said, “I don’t know about other people, but for myself … I know there are places I’ve been before, and not in this life.”
Which brings up another scene from the movie. While riding in a jeep with General Omar Bradley, Patton “sniffed out” the site of an ancient battle, between Carthaginians and Romans 2,000 years before. Patton said, “I was here,” then turned to Bradley and added, “You don’t believe me, do you Brad?” He then added, “You know what the poet said:”
Through the travail of ages,midst the pomp and toils of war,have I fought and strove and perished, countless times among the stars. As if through a glass and darkly,the age old strife I see, when I fought in many guises and many names, but always me.
Patton then asked, “Do you know who the poet was?” When Bradley smiled slightly and shook his head, Patton answered, “Me.” Which raises an interesting question. Would Patton’s belief in reincarnation – or his cursing like a sailor – keep him out of heaven, despite all that he did for America, democracy and freedom in World War II?
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In the end, Patton was both a devoted Bible-reader and a man of deep faith. He was a man who accomplished much in the one life that we know he had. But just like Robert E. Lee – another devout Episcopalian you may have heard of – Patton didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve. He had a job to do and he did it, and for the most part kept his private religion private. It’s hard to think that God (or St. Peter) would keep George Patton out of heaven just because he cursed “like a sailor” or believed in reincarnation. It would ever so boring without him…
And by the way, “Old Blood and Guts” also taught Sunday School at the Church of Our Savior San Gabriel California, as shown below:
The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia.
As to Patton’s belief in reincarnation, see also George S. Patton – Wikiquote , which included the following, from “a letter to his mother from Chamlieu, France, during World War I, revealing some of his speculations about reincarnation,” dated 20 November 1917:
I wonder if I could have been here before as I drive up the Roman road the Theater seems familiar — perhaps I headed a legion up that same white road… I passed a chateau in ruins which I possibly helped escalade in the middle ages. There is no proof nor yet any denial. We were, We are, and we will be.
The “Patton Prayer” image is courtesy of the generalpatton.com website, http://www.generalpatton.com/images/prayercard.jpg.
The “New Patton Role” image is courtesy of Church of Our Savior San Gabriel California, the church Patton attended (when possible).