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93rd Evacuation Hospital
Ready Now

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 Receiving Tents".

"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 Eisenhower's headquarters.

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 - boo-hoo-hoo."

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 story.

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 may be."

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 done).

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!

And, the song playing is entitled Think, from the movie Patton.

The General George S. Patton Historical Society

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