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Posted on Jan 25, 2004 in War College

The Famous Patton Speech

By Charles M. Province


A pale imitation of the real speech

The Background Research on General Patton’s Address to the Troops

Anyone who has ever viewed the motion picture PATTON will never forget the opening. George Campbell Scott, portraying Patton, standing in front of an immensely huge American flag, delivers his version of Patton’s "Speech to the Third Army" on June 5th, 1944, the eve of the Allied invasion of France, code-named "Overlord".

Scott’s rendition of the speech was highly sanitized so as not to offend too many fainthearted Americans. Luckily, the soldiers of the American Army who fought World War II were not so fainthearted.

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After one of my lectures on the subject of General Patton, I spoke with a retired Major-General who was a close friend of Patton and who had been stationed with him in the 1930′s in the Cavalry. He explained to me that the movie was a very good portrayal of Patton in that it was the way he wanted his men and the public to see him, as a rugged, colorful commander. There was one exception, however, according to the Major General. In reality, Patton was a much more profane speaker than the movie dared to exhibit.

Patton had a unique ability regarding profanity. During a normal conversation, he could liberally sprinkle four letter words into what he was saying and the listeners would hardly take notice of it. He spoke so easily and used those words in such a way that it just seemed natural for him to talk that way.

He could, when necessary, open up with both barrels and let forth such blue-flamed phrases that they seemed almost eloquent in their delivery. When asked by his nephew about his profanity, Patton remarked, "When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can’t run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn’t fight it’s way out of a piss-soaked paper bag."

"As for the types of comments I make", he continued with a wry smile, "Sometimes I just, By God, get carried away with my own eloquence."

When I appeared on a local San Diego television show to discuss my Patton Collection a viewer living in a suburb of San Diego, was very interested for personal reasons. Her husband had been a lieutenant assigned to General Patton’s Third Army Headquarters, code named "Lucky Forward" and he had known General Patton quite well.

He had recently died and had left to his wife a box that he had brought home with him from the European Theater of Operations.

The lady invited me to her home to inspect the box to see if there was anything in it that might be useful to me in my search for "collectibles".

Opening the box, I immediately thanked her. Inside was one of only a couple hundred copies printed of the Official United States Third Army After-Action Reports. It is a huge two volume history of the Third Army throughout their 281 days of combat in Europe. She said that she had no use for it and that I could have it. I left with my new treasure.

When I arrived at my office and removed the foot-thick, oversized books from the box, I had an even greater surprise. Under the Reports lay a small stack of original Third Army memos, orders, AND a carbon copy of the original speech that had been typed by some unknown clerk at Lucky Forward and had been widely distributed throughout Third Army.

A few years earlier, I had discovered an almost illegible xerox of a carbon copy of a similar speech. This one came from the Army War College and was donated to their Historical Library Section in 1957.

I decided to do some research on the speech to obtain the best one possible and to make an attempt to locate the identity of the "unknown soldier" who had clandestinely typed and distributed the famous document. I began by looking in my collection of old magazines, newspapers, books that have been written about Patton since his death, and dozens of other books which had references to Patton and his speech.

I discovered some interesting facts. The most interesting probably being that George C. Scott was not the first actor to perform the speech.

In 1951, the New American Mercury Magazine had printed a version of the speech which was almost exactly the same version printed by John O’Donnell in his "Capitol Stuff" column for the New York Daily News on May 31, 1945. According to the editors of the New American Mercury, their copy was obtained from Congressman Joseph Clark Baldwin who had returned from a visit to Patton’s Headquarters in Czechoslovakia.

After publication, the magazine received such a large reader response asking for reprints of the speech that the editors decided to go one step further.

They hired a "famous" actor to make an "unexpurgated" recording of the Patton speech. This recording was to be made available to veterans of Third Army and anyone else who would like to have one. The term "famous" was the only reference made by the editors about the actor who recorded the speech. In a later column they explained, "We hired an excellent actor whose voice, on records, is almost indistinguishable from Patton’s, and with RCA’s best equipment we made two recordings; one just as Patton delivered it, with all the pungent language of a cavalryman, and in the other we toned down a few of the more offensive words. Our plan was to offer our readers, at cost, either recording."

Unfortunately, a few years ago, their was a fire in the editorial offices of the magazine which destroyed almost all of their old records. The name of the actor was lost in that accident.

Only one master recording of the speech was made. The magazine Editors, not wanting to offend either Mrs. Patton or her family, asked for her sanction of the project. The Editors explained the situation thusly, "While we had only the master recordings, we submitted them to our friend, Mrs. Patton, and asked her to approve our plan. It was not a commercial venture and no profits were involved. We just wanted to preserve what to us seems a worthwhile bit of memorabilia of the Second World War. Our attorneys advised us that legally we did not need Mrs. Patton’s approval, but we wanted it."

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