BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Carlo D'Este, the author of "Patton: A Genius For War," you say in the middle of your book, "Had the general not slapped a couple soldiers in the middle of World War II, it might have changed the course of history." What did you mean?
CARLO D'ESTE: (Author, "Patton: A Genius For War,"): The two slapping incidents which took place toward the latter part of the Sicily campaign, I think, were the defining moments of Patton's military career. On August 3rd and on August 5th, on separate occasions, Patton, as was his custom, visited two Army field hospitals where there were wounded. He would normally go in there, almost daily, visit the wounded, pin on Purple Hearts and generally commiserate with his troops. It was something that he did throughout his entire military career. Unfortunately, his notoriety is based on these two events, in which he found soldiers that he believed were malingerers, who were in there for no visible reason. He completely lost his composure to the point where both soldiers were slapped and cuffed around.
Patton ordered them out of the hospital, stormed out and later said to Omar Bradley that he had just made men out of a couple of yellow bellies. Patton was simply unable to understand that soldiers have different breaking points. He thought all soldiers had to live up to a high standard. And in Patton's mind, bravery was the highest virtue that a soldier could have, and cowardice was the deadliest sin. To him, it was worse than almost anything else to see a soldier that he believed, you know, would act in a cowardly fashion. So he mistakenly thought both of these soldiers had problems. One, I think, was recovering from malaria or something, and another one had had dysentery or something.
And he was unable to conceive, in this moment of irrational anger, that something more serious had been going on. And I think this was triggered partly by two things: one, he was under tremendous stress toward the end of the campaign, both to conclude the campaign and he was ina so called race with Montgomery not only conclude the campaign but to beat the British into Messina. He'd also been under the gun from Eisenhower because there was an unfortunate friendly fire incident early in the Sicily campaign when the 504th Airborne Regiment was mistakenly fired upon as they came into Sicily on Depos 1 to parachute in, and about 84 or 85 people died. And Eisenhower blamed him for this. So the pressures on Patton up to this point were were quite great.
LAMB: This slapping incident in 1943 -- right in the middle of the war. And how did the public ever find out about it?
D'ESTE: Well, the correspondents found out about it immediately, and there was something of an uproar within the press corps. Some believed it was just Patton being Patton. Others believed it was a serious offense, that Patton should have been relieved. And several of them went to Algiers to Eisenhower's headquarters, went to see Bedell Smith, who was chief of staff, and demanded that Patton be fired.
LAMB: Some of the correspondents?
D'ESTE: Yes. Yes. John Charles Daly of CBS was one of them. There was, I think, Red Mueller...
LAMB: Used to be with NBC.
D'ESTE: ...of NBC. Although Mueller later, I am now told, really was quite a Patton fan.
LAMB: But why would a correspondent n the middle of this war think they could tell a general to fire somebody?
D'ESTE: Well, they were so incensed about it, they thought the idea of an American general, you know, slapping two private soldiers was unconscionable. And you could say that they may have overstepped their boundsin suggesting this. But nevertheless was the fact that they did go and they were shown into Eisenhower's office, and Eisenhower said to them, "Look," he said, "I can't stop you from filing your reports and from stating what happened, but," he said, "I beg you, in the name of Allied unity, I need this man. I can't win the war without Patton. And if this thing becomes public, he's probably going to get relieved, and I may have to send him home. And I'd ask you, you know, as a gentleman's agreement, to keep this in confidence," and they did.
Now the only reason it became public was that someone tipped off Drew Pearson, you know, who was a national icon, along with Walter Winchell, in those days. And Drew Pearson in November -- now this was August when these two incidents took place. But in November -- early November, Drew Pearson blew the whistle on this whole event on his national Sunday night radio program, and so that's how the world found out about it. And there was a predictable uproar in Congress. The Washington Post, for example, had an editorial later on -- I think it was in December -- demanding that Patton be fired. And it was ironic. A year later during the Battle of the Bulge that they were saying just the opposite; that we were so lucky to have had him. But nevertheless, it blew over fairly quickly. But the problem was that it cost Patton, in my opinion, the ground command for the Allied invasion of Europe.
LAMB: What was his rank when he slapped those soldiers?
D'ESTE: Well, he was a three star general, but he was an Army commander. He was the senior officer that would have been considered -- in fact, he was really one of the few that was available. Two have taken and two have been given the command. It was really his to lose, and he lost it when he slapped these two soldiers. Eisenhower said, "I'm going to retain you, but, I'm never going to advance you beyond Army rank." In fact, he didn't tell him that for some time. He let him dangle. Patton sat in exile in Sicily for almost five months, you know, wondering if he was ever going to get another chance in the war.
LAMB: Let's a photo of Patton, the general, addressing a group of soldiers. Where's this?
D'ESTE: This is in southern Sicily in August, and that's the 1st Division -- in fact, that's the only known photograph that I've been able to locate which shows Patton actually making an apology. And you can see that virtually the entire division is lined up on the side of that hill, probably 17,000 or 18,000 men. And a lot of them, at least in the case of the 1st Division -- they had no idea why they were even there. In some cases, the troops were aware of what had happened. In other cases, you know, the war hadn't really filtered down -- the 1st Division had seen a lot of tough combat. You know, they'd been in Tunisia, and they'd been at the forefront of some of the toughest fighting during the Sicily campaign. And they'd just come out of the line. They were tired, they were dirty, they were exhausted, and then all of a sudden they have to go and stand on this hillside in the broiling August sun in Sicily to hear something that they really weren't interested in hearing. So in this particular case the bulk of the division, at least from what I've been able to ascertain, they didn't really care and they really didn't even want to have to be there.
LAMB: This book I have in my hands is 978 pages long. How come?
D'ESTE: Well, of course, the narrative is -- I'd hesitate to point out -- is about 800 and -- I think the narrative itself is about 824 pages. I didn't really know what I was getting into when I started this. I had no idea, you know, what sort of book I was going to write. But I found that this man had such an extraordinary life. It was filled with so many dramatic events that I just wrote it, you know, the best way I could in terms of letting the story tell itself, and that's basically the way it ended up. It was such a big life that perhaps I could argue that it would be very difficult to do it in much less.
LAMB: Has any book like this been written before?
D'ESTE: There have been a lot of books about Patton. Most of them have been about Patton's battles and campaigns. I wrote the book because no one had shown how Patton's early life had shaped his career, had shaped the man who later became a general. And I wanted to go back, I wanted to explore his antecedent, I wanted to look at what made him tick. I mean, one just doesn't become a general that quickly. This was a lifetime of preparation for Patton. And his earlier life, the life before the 56 years -- you know, he was 60 years old when he died. The last four of those years are the years that we know about. The other 56 years of his life were fascinating. He had so many different careers and achievements that, had he never entered World War II, had he been retired, for example, he would have been a success. He didn't think so, but he would have been.
LAMB: Let's go through a number of photographs and we'll do them briefly so that we can get some sense of what he was all about.
LAMB: We have a photo of him on a horse back, I think, in 1914, '15.
D'ESTE: This would have been about 1914 at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Now one of the achievements of this man was that as a second lieutenant of cavalry, barely out of West Point, here the Army appoints him the first ever master of the sword. Now what was that? Well, the best way to describe that, I think, was that he was the Army's best swordsman. He knew more about swordsmanship, which was part of cavalry routine and everything, than anyone else in the Army. So here he is, as a young man, as a student out at the calvary school at Ft. Riley, Kansas; he's going to school, and on the other hand, he's teaching men way senior -- men who have been in the Army for many, many years -- the elements and rudiments of swordsmanship.
LAMB: Let's go to the next one, which I think is a picture of Little Bea.
D'ESTE: Yeah, this was taken either in 1914 or 1915.
D'ESTE: And that's his firstborn daughter, Beatrice. They called her Little Bea.
LAMB: Who's on -- that's him on the right?
D'ESTE: That's him on the right. He was an extremely handsome young man, and his lovely wife, Beatrice, on the left, who was the foundation of his life.
LAMB: We've got one here with the family.
D'ESTE: And that was taken a little bit later. I think that was about 1929, and that was taken at Ft. Myer, Virginia. He eventually had three children: Little Bea, Ruth Ellen, who was the middle child, and he had a son, George, who was the last born, who was born just before Christmas of 1923.
LAMB: You referenced a book that was just out a couple of months ago by a relative of George.
D'ESTE: Yeah, Patton's grandson, Robert, wrote a family memoir called "The Pattons: The Story of An American Family."
LAMB: Did that help you at all?
D'ESTE: Yes. Obviously, it was extremely helpful. I had a great deal of help, you know, from Patton's daughter Ruth Ellen. His daughter Bea died at a very young age -- in fact, just a few years after his own death. But Ruth Ellen lived until two years ago, and she, like most of the Patton family, she had an extraordinary memory. And, in fact, she had a photographic mind. And she could recall events that took place when she was four or five years old. She could quote -- like her father, she could quote verse; she could quote Kipling not by the minute, but by the hour. And so she was able to recall a lot of things for me, and she helped me out by loaning me a family memoir which was rich with detail, not only about her father but primarily about her mother.
LAMB: Where do you live?
D'ESTE: I live in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. So I'm not terribly far from the Pattons' adopted homestead up in Myopia Hunt country.
LAMB: And did you serve in the military?
D'ESTE: Yes, I did. I was in ...
LAMB: How long?
D'ESTE: I was a career officer. I served in the United States Army from 1958 to 1978. Never dreamed that I was going to become a writer after I retired. Went to graduate school -- I was stationed in England and retired over there and did some graduate work at the University of London, and decided that the academic life probably wasn't really what I wanted to do. So I ended up writing a book about the Normandy campaign, which was published in 1983 and was pretty well received, and that kind of launched me. I haven't stopped writing since.
LAMB: How many other books?
D'ESTE: This is the fifth book I've done. The first four were works of military history. I did one on Normandy. I did a book on the Sicily campaign. I did another one -- the most recent book was a book about Anzio and the war in Italy, and then I did a smaller book a couple of years ago on the war in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean, in general, is an area that military historians have not paid a great deal of attention to. The war in Europe, you know, has been far more attractive than Normandy is, has sort of been the thing that lures historians and storytellers, and the Battle of the Bulge in Arnhem. The war in Italy and the war in Sicily, for example, were some of the most brutal and difficult aspects of World War II.
LAMB: You start right off with a note to the reader, and it's all about dyslexia. How come?
D'ESTE: Well, Patton was, as I believe has been firmly established by my research, Patton was a dyslexic. The problem was that George S. Patton never knew that he was a dyslexic. He went through his entire life, in many instances, believing that he was slow. When he was young he believed he was stupid. Dyslexia was a driving force in this man's life. It, I think, obsessed him or led to an obsession that he was destined someday to become a general who would command the greatest army ever assembled, and that it was his destiny to do this. And dyslexia, one of the byproducts and the one that's least addressed is not, you know, inverting letters or having trouble concentrating or all the other manifestations that we now know go into what we call dyslexia, but the unknown thing of low self esteem. And there are many examples, particularly in his early life, of low self esteem, which, in a way, acted to fuel Patton's desire to succeed. He felt he wasn't good enough on many occasions, and they have a saying with dyslexics that most of them are smart, but feel dumb.
LAMB: For someone who's never heard of George Patton, at what moment would you have gone to stand by his side and say, "This was his biggest success"?
D'ESTE: Oh, the Battle of the Bulge, without question.
LAMB: And what was that?
D'ESTE: The Germans launched a massive counteroffensive in the Ardennes on -- on 16 December.
LAMB: Where's the Ardennes?
D'ESTE: The Ardennes forest is in the area of Luxembourg and between the border between Luxembourg and France and Germany up around Aachen, all the way down past Luxembourg city. It's one of the densest, most difficult areas to fight over anywhere in Western Europe. The forests are deep. The road net is sparse. It's rugged country. And what made it even worse in December of 1944 was it was the worst winter in almost 50 years. There were terrible snows. The cold was often six below zero. They launched -- it was Hitler's last gamble. He launched a massive counteroffensive with two Panzer armies and an infantry army in an attempt to drive through an area where the Allies were very weak. They only had a few divisions in there. And the idea was to drive this wedge perhaps get the Allies to sue for peace. And in his wildest dreams, he had this vision that these German Panzers were going to drive all the way to Antwerp and cut off the Allied logistics supply. Patton's 3rd Army was in Lorraine. And the German counteroffensive caught the Allies flat footed. There's no other way to describe it.
And in the first few hours no one really knew what to do. On the morning of the 19th of December, 1944, Eisenhower summoned to a little French caserne at Verdun all of his senior Allied commanders, and the purpose of this meeting was to figure out what to do. What was the Allied response going to be? Now out of all the people that came to his meeting, all of these senior generals, Patton was the only one who came with a plan to counter what had happened. He didn't come with one plan. He came with three plans. Two weeks before the Germans launched this counteroffensive, he and his intelligence officer had already pretty well sussed out that there was a major problem brewing. The other intelligence officers later said that they'd predicted it, but they hadn't. In fact, Montgomery was away on leave. Eisenhower and Bradley were in Paris playing bridge. There was a general lull because of the winter weather, and they knew they weren't going to resume the offensive until early January.
Only Patton knew something was afoot, and he knew the 3rd Army was likely going to get called on to help bail this out, because they were the only logical response. So he came to the meeting, and Eisenhower said to him, "Look, George, what can you do?" And Patton said, "I can attack in 48 hours with three divisions," and Eisenhower just looked at him and he scoffed. He said, "Come on, George, get serious. I want to know what you can do." And Patton said, "I mean it. This is what I can do." He said, "I have three different plans. There are three different possible avenues of approach," depending on, you know, what he was going to be asked to do. And he said, "All I have to do is pick up that telephone over there and give a code word and they're going to be on the way." And they did.
LAMB: What's the difference in the image of the 1970 movie starring George C. Scott of George Patton and the real man?
D'ESTE: Well, I think the one thing Patton would comment on immediately is George C. Scott had this wonderful, deep, very military, manly voice. Patton, unfortunately, the thing he hated the most about himself was that he felt he was cursed with a fairly high pitched, almost a squeaky voice. And it used to bug him a great deal that he didn't have a deeper, more manly approach to things. This is one aspect. The other thing is that the real Patton probably was a better actor in his own right than George C. Scott because there were really two Pattons. There was the Patton that portrayed himself to the world -- the tough guy, the macho character, the profane general who was dressed, you know, inordinately with ivory handled pistols and so forth and came, you know, with the sirens screaming and so forth. And then there was the real Patton, the Patton whom very few people saw, the intellectual Patton.
LAMB: Who is the friend there?
D'ESTE: Oh, that's Willie. Willie was an English bullterrier who had belonged to an RAF pilot, and the pilot, unfortunately, was lost in a raid over Germany. And Patton had had dogs all his life, and he got some of his aides and friends over there to -- to scout out, and they found this bullterrier, which he had had another name, but he readapted him and called him Willie.
LAMB: Here's a photograph with some kids. You remember this photo?
D'ESTE: Yes. These are Patton's grandchildren. It was taken in the summer of 1945 in June. He came back for a month on a bond tour and to see his family. It was the last time he ever came to the States and it was the last time he ever saw his family. And I put this in here because this is really one of the happier moments of a very unhappy time late in his life.
LAMB: Where is this photo from of two women?
D'ESTE: In the middle is Patton's sister Nita, who was the only other child of the marriage of his mother and father. And on the left is his wife Beatrice. He was very close to his sister. She lived in the family homestead outside of Los Angeles; had a longtime love affair with General John J. Pershing just before the First World War. Plans were that they were going to be married, and because of the war, Pershing changed his mind and she never married. She was a spinster her whole life and adopted two wonderful boys and was a great booster of her brother.
LAMB: It's easier for me to show this than to read it, as you will see, and I ask you why this chapter? (Close up of chapter title page, Pissing in the Rhine)
D'ESTE: Well, this was the chapter that deals with the last part of the war from the end of the Battle of the Bulge, which was roughly the end of January in 1945, until the war ended in May.
LAMB: And is this the picture from ...
D'ESTE: This is a picture taken, I believe, shortly after. It seemed like all of the Allied leaders had this sort of almost childlike desire to do that. Probably the one that wanted to do that the most was Winston Churchill. He did it on the Siegfried Line and he took a bunch of generals with him, and it's obviously nothing that's ever been publicly shown, but there were photographs of Churchill, had a glass of scotch in his hand and this glee of getting back at Hitler. In the case of Patton, this was something that he wanted to do. I think it was a gesture of his contempt for Hitler and the Nazis.
LAMB: One of the -- I wanted to ask you whether this is new or not. One of the things that I read that, frankly, surprised me was the whole story about womanizing and the affair he had with his daughter's best friend, or a friend. Can you explain all that and what...
D'ESTE: Well, I think to explain it, I have to go back to the period of the inner war years. Patton came out of...
LAMB: What are the inner war years?
D'ESTE: The inner war years were basically from the armistice in 1918 -- you know, the 11th of November, when the World War I ended.
LAMB: He had fought in World War I?
D'ESTE: He fought in World War I, had a terrific record. The story of World War I is one of the great untold stories of Patton's life. He was a tremendous success; headed up the AEF Tank Corps, built it up from scratch.
LAMB: What's AEF?
D'ESTE: The Allied Expeditionary Force that was headed by Pershing. This was the American element that went to Europe, you know, to fight with the French and with the British, you know, against the Germans. They went over in 1917, didn't go into combat until September of 1918.
LAMB: And you say -- now let me just stop there -- General Pershing was the ultimate military leader in World War...
D'ESTE: Yeah, Pershing was the the supreme commander, the American supreme commander.
LAMB: How much of George Patton's place in that war was due to the fact that George -- I mean, that General Pershing had had a relationship with his sister?
D'ESTE: Very little, I think, because of the sister. Patton did it pretty much on his own. Patton later modeled himself on John J. Pershing. His first relationship with Pershing began in 1916 after Pancho Villa raided a New Mexican border town, and we had what they call the punitive expedition against Mexico to try to catch and punish Pancho Villa. We never did catch him, but Pershing led this expedition. Patton wormed his way onto Pershing's staff as his aide. Pershing didn't have a vacancy for an aide, but that didn't stop Patton. He got on there. He came to know Pershing extremely well. They became close friends. The fact that his sister had this relationship with Pershing, I think, was incidental. It did not in any way contribute to the factthat Pershing not only liked Patton but believed in his ability.
In any event, Patton went to France with Pershing in 1917 when it was determined that we were going to have a Tank Corps. The British had introduced tanks to the battlefield for the first time, and we believed that this was something that we had to have, and it was Pershing's choice as to what he was going to do. And Patton was a captain at this time. He appointed Patton to head the Tank Corps, and he had a tremendous record both as a trainer and organizer and everything else during World War I. But to get back to your question, during the inner war years, Patton, who from December 1917 to November 1918, went from captain to full colonel as the head of this tremendous organization. He ended the war a war hero, and yet he considered himself a total failure. He thought he hadn't -- you know, he hadn't fulfilled his destiny, even though he was almost killed. He was badly wounded in the Meuse Argonne on the 26th of September, 1918. He came out of the war believing that he had yet to fulfill his destiny, that he had yet to do what he he believed God had actually put him on this Earth to do. There were no other wars, you know, in prospect during this dismal period. The Army was cut back from -- there were over several million, you know, during World War I, and the professional Army, the regular Army, was cut back to something under 100,000. And he thought he would never get another chance. It was the worst period of his life. He suffered from depression. I think that he may well have suffered from what we now today call post traumatic stress disorder. He went through midlife crisis. When he was 50 years old he refused to get out of bed, and it took his wife Beatrice to literally coax him to get out of bed. So it was a terrible ...
LAMB: For how long?
D'ESTE: Oh, I think he was there most of the day or maybe even a couple of days, but he just thought he was a failure. He thought there was nothing left for him. And so along comes, you know, a young woman that I think -- she was young, she was vibrant I think he was...
LAMB: Twenty one.
D'ESTE: I think so. She was trying, I think, perhaps, to show that he still had something left in life. It hurt his family very deeply. We don't know exactly what transpired. I mean, it's clear something happened during a visit when this young lady...
LAMB: How do you know?
D'ESTE: Well, both his wife and his daughter knew that something had transpired.
LAMB: Has it been published...
D'ESTE: And he was behaving like a silly young man.
LAMB: Has that been published before?
D'ESTE: Yes. As a matter of fact, Patton's grandson Robert really talks a little bit -- probably more about it than I do. It was just a bad period. It was probably undoubtedly, you know, inexcusable on his part. But it was part of this -- I have to relate it, though. It's the part of this whole depressed period, when Patton's self esteem was probably at its all time low. He had a number of accidents. He almost died in 1937 when he was kicked by his wife's horse, and a blood clot missed killing him by, according to his doctor, by a matter of minutes before they got to it. Nothing was going well for him, and I think his eyes maybe had been turned perhaps by this -- it was something that put terrible strain, you know, on his marriage as well.
LAMB: I want to jump to the very end of the book, where you describe in detail how he died because -- I mean, there's so much to cover in a 978 page book, and the story -- has it been told again in that detail?
D'ESTE: I think I've probably added the latest information that's been available about his accident.
LAMB: Where was it?
D'ESTE: It took place in a suburb of Mannheim, Germany. It was what made it so tragic was that he was going to go home on the 10th of December and he wasn't coming back.
LAMB: What year?
D'ESTE: This was 1945. He had just recently been relieved as the commander of the 3rd Army. It was the Army of occupation then in Bavaria by Eisenhower. His friendship with Eisenhower was on the rocks. He was put in command of a paper army, basically, to write the history of the war. He was burnt out, tired, over five years of this. Yeah. He was ready to go home. He was going to resign his commission and he wasn't coming back to Europe. On the 9th, his chief of staff, to help cheer him up, said, "Look, you know, let's go hunting in the Harts Mountains," so they jumped in his Cadillac touring car. They had a jeep behind them with a hunting dog in it, and they took off down the road. And they came into the outskirts of Mannheim on one of the national highways, and the whole area was filled with wreckage, with bombed out buildings and everything.
And Patton was so inquisitive that he was always looking around, commenting, making statements to his chief of staff about how awful the damage was. And he was sitting forward in the backseat of the Cadillac when a 2 1/2 ton truck cut right in front of them. There was really what amounted to a fender bender accident, where the Cadillac slammed into the right front of this truck. Patton was thrown forward, because he wasn't prepared for this accident; hit his head up on the ceiling and on the glass partition, and was instantly paralyzed from the neck down. And, in fact, his doctor later said the only reason he lived 10 days, until the 21st, when he finally died -- 11 days -- was that he was in such superb physical condition. But it was a real tragedy because, you know, here he was, he's ready to go home, he's going to resign and everything else, and on the day before a freak accident literally takes his life. His chief of staff was cut up, but he wasn't seriously hurt. The driver was barely scratched.
LAMB: Where is he buried now?
D'ESTE: He's buried in the American military cemetery at Hamm, Luxembourg. It's just outside of the city of Luxembourg. There was a choice -- his wife made a choice. There were several possible cemeteries that they could have put him in, and she elected Hamm because there are a lot of 3rd Army men -- it's in the Ardennes, and there are a lot of 3rd Army men buried there, and she thought that this would be an appropriate place for him.
LAMB: You know, this is going to be an odd question. In the middle of your book, you reference a fellow that we know here because we've simulcast his radio shows by the name of Don Imus. And what relationship does George Patton have to Don Imus, and why did you mention him?
D'ESTE: Well, I mentioned it simply because, you know, next month, December of 1995, is the 50th anniversary of Patton's death. Patton, you know, is still remembered. Patton, I think, was something of a legend when the film "Patton" appeared in 1970. And after the film, I could argue -- and I think some people would say -- that he'd become a folk hero. But he's still well known. Imus, you know, satirizes political events and people, and Patton is one of the many characters that -- there's a voice comes on that pretty much imitates George C. Scott. So I simply threw that in there to show that he's still remembered, and remembered in a particularly strange way, perhaps, on the Imus program. But Imus, of course, uses him as a vehicle for satirizing mainly Washington and the politicians and the president and, you know, things that are going on in the world today.
But he's a man of intense interest, not only to the older generations -- the World War II vets, the men of 3rd Army who served our country during that time -- but to a whole new generation of Americans, a younger generation. And one of the things I found, you know, as I went through this book, as I went through the research, was a tremendous interest in Patton by this young generation.
LAMB: When did you first start your research for this book?
D'ESTE: Well, actually, I probably began some 15 years ago. I never really seriously considered writing his biography until about 1988. I felt I had to really pay my dues, if you will, by doing writing about the war and getting an understanding of him and the characters that were part of his life. So by 1988, you know, I felt that a biography of him was necessary. So I started it in 1988, I began the research. I was still finishing up another book, and I began seriously to write it about 1990, so...
LAMB: When you go through some of the background on where you found the material, you notice things like, "The US Army Military Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, is a national treasure." Did you spend time there?
D'ESTE: Oh, yes, I've spent time there over the years. It's really one of the favorite places I go, but it's really the unofficial history and the unofficial conscience of the United States Army is at Carlisle. It's not just World War II. In fact, I think the bulk of their holdings are Civil War. They have Revolutionary War stuff -- things that are not appropriate, not official records that you would put, for example, in the National Archives, but papers, oral histories, letters and things of this sort, all ended up at Carlisle. And it's...
LAMB: You say -- I'm sorry.
D'ESTE: No, just it's a place that any serious biographer or historian of a military figure would naturally gravitate to.
LAMB: You say that John S.D. Eisenhower provided a copy of his father's unpublished manuscript to you.
D'ESTE: Yeah. Shortly after Eisenhower left the presidency he, I think, had intentions of writing another memoir about his life, you know, prior to the presidency, of his World War II experiences. He didn't get very far. He only wrote, I think, about 30 or 40 pages and then he quit. And then eventually he went on to write a memoir of his presidency. So this was a partial memoir that he had written that John very kindly let me have.
LAMB: You also say, "There's a Patton museum of cavalry and armor at Ft. Knox, Kentucky." Did you go there?
D'ESTE: No, but they don't have too much in the way of papers, but they have a wonderful collection of Patton photographs and memorabilia. And we did a lot of it by mail, but literally, 100, 150 photographs came from there, many of which I eventually chose to put in the book.
LAMB: A fellow you mention in here we see so often in liner notes and acknowledgements is Forrest Pogue, and you say that "He was so helpful many years ago when I was searching for the focus of what eventually became 'Decision at Normandy.'" And you say Forrest Pogue's fame may rest on his books, "But to those of us whom he has helped in his kindly manner, he is quite simply a jewel we are all deeply proud to call a friend and mentor." What's so special, and why do we see him mentioned so often?
D'ESTE: Well, Forrest Pogue was one of the official historians. He was one of that eminent group, that included Mark Blumenson and others that came out of World War II, and helped write what we call the green books, which were the history of the United States Army in World War II. Forrest Pogue wrote "The Official History of Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters" and he was a young sergeant who went through the Normandy campaign and went through the war, later became a distinguished historian, and became -- I think he's probably best known as George Marshall's official biographer. He wrote a four volume, marvelous life of Marshall. But he's a man that people like myself have gone to over the years and said, "Look, what do we do about this? Or what can you tell me about this?"
He's just a wonderful man. He takes time -- I mean, he used to spend hours on the phone when I first came to Washington, back about 1980. I can remember one Saturday afternoon I spent four hours on the telephone. Forrest Pogue is telling me areas I should look into, things I should be careful of, things I ought to consider. And then I found out, of course, it wasn't just me; that other historians -- I mean, if you talk to Stephen Ambrose, for example, who's done so many books about Eisenhower and the Normandy landings and so forth, Ambrose'll tell you the same thing: that he has been a mentor, a friend, a guide and he's just a wonderful person to be around. And all of us just owe him a tremendous debt. I just can't say enough.
LAMB: All right. You mention Forrest Pogue and then you mention Stephen Ambrose, who has been here and done this show, and then, on the back of your book, you right here have a quote from a younger historian, who has also been here, Doug Brinkley, who has a quote commending you for this book. What made you go to Doug Brinkley who took over from Stephen Ambrose at the University of New Orleans and the Eisenhower Center.
D'ESTE: Well, I'm sure you're familiar, but before books are published, you know, editors like to send out advance copies to eminent people, in an attempt to get prepublication quotes. And it just so happened that, you know, Doug Brinkley was one of them -- got the book, liked it very much and sent that in, and, in time, they actually get it on the dust jacket.
LAMB: And did you ask him, or does ...
D'ESTE: No, I didn't; my editor did. This was something that I had nothing to do with.
LAMB: If we'd have followed you around since 1988 -- and, I'm sure, a lot of years before that -- when you were doing your research, where would we have found you spending the most of your time?
D'ESTE: Probably right here in Washington. Not all, but certainly a substantial part of what we now call the Patton papers -- the Patton collection -- is in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. So there's something like 125 boxes. So I spent week after week after week. I would come for a week or two at a time and go home, try to digest it all. It took me six months just to put it on my computer so I could figure out what it was. I spent a lot of time -- we've already talked about the Military History Institute at Carlisle. I spent a lot of time there. I spent time in British archives looking for material about him -- you know, things that the British said about him -- various monographs, papers in the Imperial War Museum, in various collections in London. I spent time at West Point. There's a growing collection of Patton material at West Point. And then there's just an inordinate number of obscure, but yet important secondary sources out there that I had to track down. And I had to go to lots of different places. People would send me things. I would, you know, go through newspaper clippings. I would go to the main part of the Library of Congress, the Reading Room, toto learn about dyslexia, for example. So it wasn't just finding things out about Patton. I had to learn about dyslexia before I could really write about this man's life, because dyslexia was one of the two major things that drove him.
LAMB: Is that new, the dyslexia?
D'ESTE: It's been mentioned in one or two previous books, but it's never been, in my opinion, really analyzed, and I don't think it's been related -- its importance, at least -- to Patton himself. So this was an area that, as a biographer, it was extremely important, you know, that I learn about dyslexia before I could write about Patton. David McCullough had the same experience with a book he did about young Teddy Roosevelt. And, you know, Teddy Roosevelt had asthma, and I learned this from McCullough at a lecture I attended years ago. And he was talking about -- he couldn't have written Roosevelt's biography without first learning about asthma. And so I took my cue, really, from him, and I felt that I just couldn't address this subject until I got a handle on dyslexia. And I was fortunate that I found one of the leading experts in America on the subject, who's written an excellent book that's, you know, understandable to the layman, that I was able to use as a foundation to begin my research.
LAMB: You also write a lot about him believing in reincarnation.
D'ESTE: Oh, absolutely. In fact, most of the Patton family did. He believed that he had lived previous lives. Now...
LAMB: I wrote down that he died on the plains of Troy...
D'ESTE: He died on the plains of Troy, and he ...
LAMB: ...and marched with Caesar's terrible 10th Legion?
D'ESTE: ...Caesar, he was with Napoleon coming out of Moscow. He had been a Viking warrior and had almost come back from the dead 1,000...
LAMB: He actually believed this?
D'ESTE: He believed this, and he he was dead serious about it. Interestingly enough, though, he, in his previous lives, never seemed to have have appeared like a general, or as the commander. He was always an ordinary soldier -- a centurion, a legionnaire, you know, as a warrior of some sort. But he believed that part of his ability as a commander and as a soldier was based on what he had learned in these previous lives. And whether or not, you know, you or I or anyone else believes in reincarnation is is totally immaterial. The point was that he believed in it, and he always felt that these experiences were something which guided him through his command. And I can give you, you know -- if you have a moment, I can give you a classic example was when 3rd Army went into Normandy, Patton used as one of his guidelines for the employment of 3rd Army a book called "The Norman Conquest," which was about William the Conqueror, and what William, who had fought in Normandy and Brittany -- what he had done and what roads he had used. And his logic was pretty astounding. His logic was this: that, in the days of William the Conqueror, they were only able to use roads which were passable and which his armies could cross. And these were mainly secondary roads.
And he said, "If they were good enough for William the Conqueror, they're good enough for us, because they'll still be there, and, also, the Germans won't be booby trapping and mining them the way they always did." This was their habit throughout the war. And so he based his campaign and what he was going to do on the road net. He used to say, "If the study of mankind is man, the study of war is the road net." And so this was part of this genius that he had for being able to take history and turn it to his own advantage. And it was an amazing story about how he did this in Normandy. He also had a map that he prepared just before the Normandy campaign, in which he outlined all the places that he thought 3rd Army would go. And when you take this map -- this pre D Day map, and look at where 3rd Army actually went, it's almost a parallel line.
LAMB: Did you say earlier that Ruth Ellen, his daughter, is dead?
D'ESTE: Yes. She died in 1993.
LAMB: When did you spend time with her?
D'ESTE: I saw her in 1991, and I spent one of the most fascinating days of my life with this lady. She has a wonderful intellect.
LAMB: Where'd you find her?
D'ESTE: Well, she lives not too far -- a couple of hours from me in the old -- she lives in, actually, the original Patton homestead, which he and his wife Beatrice bought in 1928, in Hamilton, Massachusetts, called Green Meadows. And she had read my earlier books, so she knew who I was, and I had sort of been after I had written several letters saying, "Would you please let me come talk to you about your father? Because I really want to do him."
And so letter came one day that said, "Come and see me." So I did. And, suffice to say, it was one of the most memorable days of my life. I learned things, and just watching her, you know, seeing almost in her elements of her father -- this marvelous intellect, this ability to remember things that simply makes me green with envy. I can't remember, you know, maybe things that happened last week. She could remember what she did when she was four years old.
LAMB: You quote her in here, and I thought I might read a little bit about it because it's about compassion. You say people didn't realize that he was a compassionate individual. The daughter, Ruth Ellen, writes -- now when you quote her writing, did she write it to you or did she write it to somebody else?
D'ESTE: No. She wrote pretty much for the family use. Oh, it was 500 and some odd page family memoir, and it was really about her mother.
LAMB: Never published?
D'ESTE: Never published. She didn't intend to publish it, but it was for the benefit so that other generations of Pattons would have some idea of what marvelous intellectual, brilliant woman George S. Patton was married to. We know a lot about Patton, but we don't know too much about Beatrice, and that's one of the things I try to do in this book, was to show the vital importance the role that Beatrice played in his life. So ...
LAMB: Is this a picture ...
D'ESTE: ... a lot of this came out of this memoir.
LAMB: ...of the two of them?
D'ESTE: Yes, it is. In fact, as far as I know, this was probably the last known picture of the two of them together. It would have been taken about June 1945.
LAMB: Let me read you what Ruth Ellen wrote: "The war was all around him when he wrote Ma a letter, which shows a side of him that she always saw, but that few others outside his immediate family ever knew existed. He wrote to her that he had been inspecting a battlefield at night, and that the dead soldiers, as yet unclaimed by the burial teams, were lying there in the moonlight. He said it was hard to tell the Americans and British from the Germans, and they all looked alike: very young and very dead. And he began to think how often their mothers had changed their diapers and wiped their noses, and suddenly the whole concept seemed unbearable. And he decided that the only way to survive under such stress was to try to think of soldiers as numbers, not as individuals, and that the sooner the Allies won, the sooner the slaughter of the incidents -- of the innocents would cease. However, no matter what he said, he could never quite do that. To him, his men were individuals, people and responsibilities, always." Will that surprise people when they read that?
D'ESTE: I think so. I think so because, again, the public Patton left this perception of this tough, unbending character. And behind this facade was a Patton who cared very, very deeply about his troops.
LAMB: I mean, you've got a poem right below that that he wrote called, "The Moon and the Dead." How often did he write poems?
D'ESTE: During World War I and during the inner war year period, quite a bit. His poetry, I think, is almost a mirror to his soul. I mean, you can see the torment and you can see some of the things -- at least, you can begin to grasp a little bit what drove this man, through his poetry. And so one of the reasons that I have, you know, some examples of his poetry, and particularly the one that you've just mentioned, is to try to show the reader some of the depth of this man's character, some of the things that he felt. He always felt that men were the key to winning battles, that it was soldiers that won battles; it wasn't machinery, it wasn't fancy guns or weapons or anything like that. In fact, he wrote an essay in the 1930s specifically addressing this problem, and saying, "We mustn't pay attention to the advent of modern armaments and everything, because it is the soldier who wins battles, and it is the leader who makes and helps and takes those soldiers forward to do that."
LAMB: You had some interesting statistics about history. You say that in World War I, there was a force of 3.7 million.
LAMB: What year did the World War I end?
D'ESTE: It ended in the 11th day of the 11th month, November 11th, 1918, which, coincidentally, happened to be the date that he was born in 1885.
LAMB: The reason I mention this is because then you show by the year 1922 -- went from 1918 to 1922 -- Congress authorized 12,000 officers and 125,000 enlisted men. That was the entire armed forces.
D'ESTE: That was the entire Army, and there was no money. You may remember that at some point during the inner war years there used to be signs in various places, "Soldiers and dogs, keep off the grass." I mean, soldiering was a profession that virtually vanished, and when we took this huge army, just as we did after the Second World War, and just decimated it, down to the minimal force, there wasn't enough money to do any of the things that needed to be done. And, as a matter of fact, Patton left the Tank Corps because there was no future in it -- they were put under the infantry branch -- and went back to the cavalry for 20 years, because he believed he had no future.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how big a force there was at the end of World War II, and then how far it went down again?
D'ESTE: The entire military force that we had -- and this is including the Air Corps and the Navy and everything, was, I think, in excess of 10 million. It may have been actually even higher than that, but ...
LAMB: And how low did we get after World War II?
D'ESTE: Well, after World War II, we came down to -- we didn't go to 100,000, but it seems to me it was below 500,000. When we entered the Korean War, it was as if we were entering World War I or World War II all over again. I mean, we had seemingly not learned the lessons that previous wars had tried to teach us about keeping a strong military force.
LAMB: Is that why we still have a --what? -- a million and a half men, women under -- in military uniform today?
D'ESTE: Well, of course, now it's the lowest it's ever been, but, yes, I think so. I think finally those lessons were absorbed at great cost.
LAMB: At the front of your book, you have this dedication: "To Shirley Ann, Elizabeth" -- and I can't read from here; what's the next name? -- "Christopher and...
D'ESTE: Liane and...
LAMB: ...oh, Liane, Christopher and...
D'ESTE: ...my little daughter; Christopher is my son, and Danielle is my lovely stepdaughter.
LAMB: And your parents.
LAMB: What impact did they have on your life?
D'ESTE: Oh, tremendous. You know, my father was a world class musician who came over -- fought in World War I, hated it; didn't really want to be a soldier, but was conscripted as a young officer into the Austrian army; came over to the United States in the '20s on a musician's visa, and he was an oboist and an English horn player.
LAMB: From where?
D'ESTE: From Trieste. Played for Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony; you know, was a man who gave me a sense of the importance of being a gentleman. He was such a tremendous influence on my life. He died, unfortunately, at a very young age.
LAMB: How old were you?
D'ESTE: I had just graduated from college, so I was about 22, but he'd been ill for 10 or 12 years, after he had in 1946 a massive heart attack. My mother just died two years ago. She was 95, and she showed me the kind of courage that I simply can't put into words. She was a double amputee; she'd lost both her legs. She lived...
D'ESTE: People thought it was diabetes, but she had arteriosclerosis and gangrene set in on her feet and everything, and, you know, it was one of these things. They had to save her life, they had to cut her leg off. And she was 87 when she lost her first leg, and they said she'd never walk again, and she did. And then two years -- year and a half later, they took off her other leg; she's now a double amputee; and that woman lived on her own until four months before she died. I moved her next door to where I was, so I could help take care of her, but she showed me the courage -- and she was legally blind on top of it -- but she showed me the kind of courage that -- you know, there's all sorts of courage in this world.
There's the courage that people show on the battlefield, and then there's the kind of quiet courage that she showed me. So that's the reason for this dedication. You know, whenever I get down and I start to moan and groan about the little things of everyday life, then I stop to think about what she went through, and I just have to say to myself, "You know, if she could do this, then somehow, I've got to get through whatever it is that's ailing me at the moment."
LAMB: You say that George Patton was a hero.
D'ESTE: Yeah, I think he was. I think to a whole generations of Americans, he represented some very old fashioned virtues. It may sound corny, perhaps, in this day and age, but he seriously believed in the West Point creed of "Duty, honor and country." Patriotism was one of the strongest words in his vocabulary, and he believed, for example, that a citizen had a duty to serve his country in a time of crisis, in a time of war.
LAMB: If General Eisenhower were sitting here, give me a word or two that -- how would he characterize him if he were here today?
D'ESTE: He would say simply that George S. Patton was a man who was born to be a soldier.
LAMB: What would Omar Bradley say?
D'ESTE: Hard to say. Bradley was not a good friend of his, but I think even Bradley, who who was a rival, who really detested Patton. I think if he were forced to say something, he would say that he was a pretty good soldier. He didn't like his methods, he didn't like how he went about his business, he didn't like the way he acted as a general and how he projected himself, but Omar Bradley had good cause to be happy that George S. Patton was there, particularly during the Battle of the Bulge and afterwards.
LAMB: We didn't talk much about -- you said his ancestors made a big difference in his life. What military were they in, and where did they fight?
D'ESTE: Tremendous. His ancestry is Virginia. The Pattons were a Virginia family. The first Patton came from Scotland about 1769. When the Civil War came there were seven different Pattons fought in the Civil War. Two of them had an extraordinary influence on his life. The first one was his grandfather, the first George S. Patton. Now he was killed in the Battle of Winchester in 1864.
D'ESTE: They're all Confederates, but more specifically, they were Virginians first. And I think most of them thought that they were fighting for Virginia first and the Confederacy second. Most of them had gone to the Virginia Military Institute, were VMI grads. His great uncle Walter Taswell was mortally wounded in Pickett's Charge. He was reputedly the last of the Virginia regimental commanders to fall on the afternoon of July 3rd, 1863. And so these were huge influences in his life.
LAMB: By the way, is there anything we missed?
D'ESTE: About another 500 pages, maybe.
LAMB: This is the book. Where's this photo from, by the way?
D'ESTE: This photo was taken about, I think, April or May of 1945, in Germany. This shows Patton, I think, pretty well burned out after the war. This is Patton with his war face on.
LAMB: Our guest has been Carlo D'Este, the author of "Patton: A Genius for War." And we thank you.
D'ESTE: Thanks a lot.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.