GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON, JR.
The Slapping Incidents
by Charles M. Province
Thousands of words have been written about the "slapping incidents" which took
place during August 1943 on the island of
Sicily and almost ended the career of General Patton, yet little has been
written as to the complete facts; the whole story .
I will state the entire list of facts, the principle persons involved, and how
they acted or reacted. It will be left to the reader to
decide for himself whether Patton was correct in his actions or if he was a
victim of unethical practices.
First, the recorded information, which has been publicized to date. We will then
tell the rest of the story which has never been
brought to light before.
From a letter dated August 16, 1943 by Lt. Col. Perrin H. Long, Medical Corps,
on the subject of "Mistreatment of Patients in
"Exhibit 1 - Pvt. Charles H. Kuhl, L Company, 26th Infantry, 1st Division, was
seen in the aid station on August 2, 1943. A
diagnosis of "Exhaustion" was made. He was evacuated to C Company, 1st Medical
Battalion. There was a note made on the
patient's Emergency Medical Tag that he had been admitted to Company C three
times for "Exhaustion" during the Sicilian
Campaign. From C Company he was evacuated to the clearing company and there was
put in "quarters" and was given sodium
mytal. On 3 August 1943, the following note appears on the E.M.T.
"Psychoneurosis anxiety state - moderate severe" (soldier
has been twice before in hospital within ten days. He can't take it at the
front, evidently. He is repeatedly returned). He was
evacuated to the 15th Evacuation Hospital. While he was waiting in the receiving
tent, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., came into
the tent with the commanding officer and other medical officers. The general
spoke to the various patients in the receiving tent
and especially commended the wounded men. Then he came to Pvt. Kuhl and asked
him what was the matter. The soldier
replied, "I guess I can't take it." The general immediately flared up, cursed
the soldier, called him all types of a coward, then
slapped him across the face with his gloves and finally grabbed the soldier by
the scruff of his neck and kicked him out of the
tent. The soldier was immediately picked up by corpsmen and taken to a ward
tent. There he was found to have a temperature
of 102.2 degrees F and he gave a history of chronic diarrhea for about one
month, having at times as high as ten or twelve
stools a day. The next day his fever continued and a blood smear was found to be
positive for malarial parasites. The final
disposition diagnosis was chronic dysentery and malaria. This man had been in
the Army eight months and with the 1st Division
since about June 2d."
"Exhibit 2 - Pvt. Paul G. Bennet, C Battery, 17th Field Artillery, was admitted
to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital on 10 August
'43. This patient was a 21 year old boy who had served four years in the regular
Army. His unit had been with II Corps since
March and he had never had any difficulties until August 6th, when his buddy was
wounded. He could not sleep that night and
felt nervous. The shells going over him bothered him. The next day he was
worried about his buddy and became more nervous.
He was sent down to the rear echelon by a battery aid man and there the medical
officer game him some medicine which made
him sleep, but still he was nervous and disturbed. On the next day the medical
officer ordered him to be evacuated, although the
"boy" begged not to be evacuated because he did not want to leave his unit. Lt.
Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., entered the
receiving tent and spoke to all the injured men. The next patient was sitting
huddled up and shivering. When asked what his
trouble was, the man replied, "It's my nerves," and he began to sob. The General
then screamed at him, "What did you say?"
The man replied, "It's my nerves, I can't stand the shelling anymore." He was
still sobbing. The General then yelled at him, "Your
nerves, hell; you are just a Goddamned coward, you yellow son of a bitch." He
then slapped the man and said, "Shut up that
Goddamned crying. I won't have these brave men here who have been shot at seeing
a yellow bastard sitting here crying." He
then struck the man again, knocking his helmet liner off and into the next tent.
He then turned to the admitting officer and yelled,
"Don't admit this yellow bastard; there's nothing the matter with him. I won't
have the hospitals cluttered up with these sons of
bitches who haven't got the guts to fight." He then turned to the man again, who
was managing to sit at attention though shaking
all over and said, "You're going back to the front lines and you may get shot
and killed, but you're going to fight. If you don't, I'll
stand you up against a wall and have a firing squad kill you on purpose. In
fact," he said, reaching for his pistol, "I ought to shoot
you myself, you Goddamned whimpering coward." As he left the tent, the general
was still yelling back to the receiving officer to
send that yellow son of a bitch back to the front line. Nurses and patients
attracted by the shouting and cursing came from
adjoining tents and witnessed this disturbance. The deleterious effects of such
incidents upon the well being of patients, upon the
professional morale of hospital staffs, and upon the relationship of patient to
physician are incalculable. It is imperative that
immediate steps be taken to prevent a recurrence of such incidents."
These reports had been made through the normal chain of command and eventually
reached the desk of General Omar Bradley
who was at the time Patton's subordinate. Other than to show the reports to his
superior, Bradley chose to secure them in his
safe and forget the whole affair. Had he shown them to Patton, he would have, at
least, let him know that his actions were being
challenged by his medical officers and he could have possible re-considered his
actions. As it turned out, the medical officers
by-passed the normal channels and sent a second set of reports through medical
channels to the High Command at
The reports above are verbatim according to the "medical authorities". Later,
after talking with another medical officer present at
one of the incidents, General Brenton Wallace reported, "As for the so-called
"slapping incidents"; General Patton made
frequent visits to the hospitals to see that the wounded were being properly
cared for. One day he visited a large hospital in
Sicily when he commanded the Seventh Army.
As he came to the last ward, having been much distressed by the sights he had
seen of the severely wounded and how bravely
they were bearing up, he saw suddenly a young soldier sitting on the edge of his
cot, apparently crying.
Patton went over and said, "What's wrong, soldier, are your hurt?"
Without rising, but burying his face in his hands, the soldier whimpered, "Oh,
no, I'm not hurt, but, oh, it's terrible - terrible -
With that the general, disturbed after seeing all the badly wounded and
mutilated soldiers, commanded, "Stand up."
The soldier got to his feet and the general slapped him across the neck with his
gloves, which he was carrying, and said, "Why
don't you act like a man instead of a damn sniveling baby? Look at these
severely wounded soldiers, not complaining a bit and
as cheerful as can be, and here you are, a Goddamned crybaby."
I was told by the medical officer that it was the best thing that could have
happened to the boy and that he was discharged from
the hospital in less than a week, perfectly normal and well."
It would appear from this accounting that there are, indeed, two sides to each
On August 17, 1943, General F.A. Blesse, the Chief Surgeon at AFHQ brought to
General Patton a letter from Eisenhower. It
read, "I am attaching a report which is shocking in it's allegations against
your personal conduct. I hope you can assure me that
none of them is true; but the detailed circumstances communicated to me lead to
the belief that some ground for the charges
must exist. I am well aware of the necessity for hardness and toughness on the
battle field. I clearly understand that firm and
drastic measures are at times necessary in order to secure the desired
objectives. But this does not excuse brutality, abuse of
the "sick"**, nor exhibition of uncontrollable temper in front of subordinates."
(**Author's note: the definition of sick is
Eisenhower's. It was Patton's firm conviction that "battle fatigue" was not a
sickness. He believed that all men were afraid in
combat, but only the coward allows his fear to overcome his sense of duty.)
"In the two cases cited in the attached report, it is not my present intention
to institute any formal investigation. Moreover, it is
acutely distressing to me to have such charges as these made against you at the
very moment when an American Army under
your leadership has attained a success of which I am extremely proud. I feel
that the personal services you have rendered the
United States and the Allied cause during the past weeks are of incalculable
value; but nevertheless, if there is a very
considerable element of truth in the allegations accompanying this letter, I
must so seriously question your good judgement and
your self discipline as to raise serious doubts in my mind as to your future
usefulness. I am assuming, for the moment, that the
facts in the case are far less serious than appears in this report, and that
whatever truth is contained in these allegations reports
an act of yours when under the stress and strain of winning a victory, you were
thoughtless rather than harsh. Your leadership of
the past few weeks has, in my opinion, fully vindicated to the War Department
and to all your associates in arms my own
persistence in upholding your pre-eminent qualifications for the difficult task
to which you were assigned. Nevertheless, you
must give to this matter of personal deportment your instant and serious
consideration to the end that no incident of this
character can be reported to me in the future, and I may continue to count upon
your assistance in military tasks."
"In Allied Headquarters there is no record of the attached report or of my
letter to you, except in my own secret files. I will
expect your answer to be sent to me personally and secretly. Moreover, I
strongly advise that, provided that there is any
semblance of truth in the allegations in the accompanying report, you make in
the form of an apology or other such personal
amends to the individuals concerned as may be within your power, and that you do
this before submitting your letter to me."
"No letter that I have been called upon to write in my military career has
caused me the mental anguish of this one, not only
because of my long and deep personal friendship for you but because of my
admiration for your military qualities, but I assure
you that conduct such as described in the accompanying report will not be
tolerated in this theater no matter who the offender
Eisenhower had decided that Patton was far too valuable to the war effort to
lose. His audacious, driving leadership was surely
needed at this stage of the game. Eisenhower's plan was to have Patton apologize
to the soldiers he had slapped and also to all
of the personnel in his Army in Division formation. Knowing Patton's pride, he
felt that this would be severe punishment, indeed.
In Beatrice Patton's words, "The deed is done and the mistake made, and I'm sure
Georgie is sorrier and has punished himself
more than anyone could possibly realize ... I just hope they won't kick him to
death while he's down."
Some of the correspondents at AFHQ, including Demaree Bess of the Saturday
Evening Post had learned of the slappings.
They acquiesced in the reporting of the situation because they were uncertain if
Patton might not be subject to a Court Martial
for his actions. They contacted Eisenhower prior to submitting the story for
publication. Eisenhower then had a meeting with
three of the Senior Correspondents at AFHQ during which he had explained the
situation to them and the exact course of action
that he had followed, hoping that the matter would then be completely settled.
The correspondents decided as a group to drop
the matter. They, too, thought Patton too valuable a man to lose.
Although Eisenhower thought that this course of action was the best, Patton
disagreed. Of course, being in the doghouse at the
time, he thought better of silence than of protestation. Later, he would write
in his diary, "I had been expecting something like
this (the Pearson attack) to happen for some time because I am sure that it
would have been much better to have admitted the
whole thing to start with, "particularly" in view of the fact that I was RIGHT
in what I did. (Patton never admitted that he was in
error. In his "apologies" he actually only explained why he had done what he had
At this point, our story would seem to be finished. Fate, however, had much
different ideas in mind. There would become
involved figures whose presence in the case were curious, indeed. One of these
persons was a homosexual employee of the
State Department who had no other relationship to General Patton than that they
both worked for the same government. It was
pure irony that two men so diametrically opposed could be involved in the same
historical tragedy. One who was a homosexual,
and the other, the epitome of manhood; a warrior.
In the month of November, 1943, Drew Pearson broadcast the story of Patton and
his slapping of two American soldiers.
Disregarding the fact that many other correspondents and news media people knew
of the incidents and that the story was three
months old, Pearson claimed the story as his own, personal "scoop". Pearson's
broadcast, of course, created quite a sensation
throughout the United States. Some Senators and Congressmen, upon hearing the
broadcast, clamored for the dismissal of
General Patton purely on the grounds of Pearson's allegations, not waiting for
any evidence nor the complete facts of the story.
One congressman went as far as to compare Patton to Hitler and one newspaper ran
a political cartoon of Patton in which the
General bore a remarkable resemblance to "Der Fuhrer".
One of the reasons that Pearson's "scoop" caused a furor was his allegations
that the Army, in general, and Eisenhower, in
particular, had made an attempt to "cover-up" the whole story.
Actually, there was no attempt at a cover up. During Eisenhower's absence a
press conference was held by General Bedell
Smith (never one of Patton's best friends). During this conference, when asked
about the slappings, Smith said that
Eisenhower's letter to Patton was "private" rather than a public reprimand.
Later, Eisenhower termed Smith's remarks as a
"mistake". Smith probably did not care too much, though, as he had no great
liking for Patton. This apparently "impressed"
Pearson as an attempt to keep the story from the American public.
Here we arrive at what is normally considered the end of the story. We know that
Patton did slap two soldiers. He was
reprimanded and made to apologize. He was relieved of command of his Seventh
Army. He later went on to vindicate himself
by the dynamic leadership he had always shown. His Third Army would go farther,
faster, kill more enemy, take more
prisoners, and conquer more territory than any other Army in all of history. All
of this with Patton in the vanguard of the attack.
Source: The Unknown Patton, by Charles M. Province (copyright 1983, 1992, 1998)
Webmaster's Note: Charles M. Province, the author and researcher of this information continues on from here. There is much more background information, including some surprising facts, published in his novel, The Unknown Patton. I urge you to seek out this book! The rest of the story can be found in Chapter 8. You may also purchase this book at a reasonable price, autographed by the author!
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