General George Patton of World War 2 fame lived in the grip of a strong sense of destiny. At times, he felt he might be the reincarnation of some ancient Roman general. There was a daring and innovative spirit about him, a combination, some said, of past generals such as the Confederacy’s Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jeb Stuart, and the Union’s George Custer.
Patton knew he was special and felt “the gods” had ordained him for something dramatic in life.
According to LIFE magazine for November 30, 1942, he expected his death to be spectacular.
He has a date with history, but the date, he thinks, will be brief. He expects to be killed in battle, not bombed out of headquarters somewhere to the rear, but blown up, bit by bit, in a tank advancing at the head of a victorious attack through the enemy’s strongest lines.
This premonition that he will be killed in battle is not something new. He had it in 1917; he had it during all the years between World War I and World War II, when even the Army seemed to believe there would be no more wars. He often described his premonition to his wife, until today she too believes it. Of course, it may not come in the present desert campaign, but Patton’s friends now take his word for it: it will come sometime and it will be glorious. (p.116)
That’s what he expected about his death. It was not to be.
Four months after the war ended he was killed in an automobile accident.
He must have been so disappointed.
Patton and Major General Hobart Gay were being driven in a Cadillac staff car to a pheasant hunt. Near a railroad crossing where they had slowed down, a truck turned left in front of them. Patton’s driver slammed on the brakes and cut to the left. The two vehicles collided at a slow speed.
The others in the two vehicles were only slightly injured, but as Patton had not had time to brace himself, his head shattered the glass partition in the back seat. He had a compression fracture and dislocation of two vertebrae. His neck was broken and he had an injury of the cervical spinal cord, paralyzing him from the neck down.
For the next 12 days, Patton lay in spinal traction in a military hospital. He died in his sleep of a pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure, and was buried among his men at the American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.
I’ve been through the Patton Museum at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The Cadillac in which he was fatally injured is on display.
Have you ever wanted to feel omniscient?
It’s simple enough. Get an old magazine down and read it. You already know the outcome of those political events, the fate of those celebrities, and the truth about many of those ads. In the LIFE magazine mentioned above, for instance….
–Page 63 carries a half-page ad by “Philip Morris” cigarettes. Some readers will remember “Johnny,” the bell-hop whose voice could be heard on radio commercials calling out clear as a bell: “Call for Philip Mor-ris!” This ad in LIFE says, “You’re safer smoking Philip Morris! You see, this cigarette has been scientifically proved less irritating to the nose and throat! Eminent doctors report, in medical journals that: When smokers changed to Philip Morris, every case of irritation of the nose or throat–due to smoking–cleared completely or definitely improved!” It ends: “So–you are safer smoking Philip Morris!” (Note: this is verbatim, bad English and all.)
We now know that was pure hokum. Millions of lives cut short by lung cancer attest to the con game the tobacco companies were running, and getting rich doing it.
–Page 45 begins a lenghty article under the title “Truman Committee Exposes Housing Mess.” Now, I’m supposed to be something of a Truman buff since I own a ton of books on this president. But in 1942, he was a lowly second term senator from Missouri, and any suggestion that he might succeed FDR would have been considered ridiculous by everyone. The work of this committee made him president.
What happened was this. As soon as the U.S. got into the Second World War, the government rushed to build military camps with living accommodations for hundreds of thousands of personnel across the country. They let contracts right and left, often with little or no oversight. As a result, this country ended up with a lot of shoddy workmanship performed by scam companies looking to grab a quick buck. It was the American soldiers who suffered for their greed.
Senator Harry Truman was upset about it, but at first had a hard time finding anyone wanting to help him look into the matter and hold those unscrupulous contractors accountable. Eventually, he got his committee and then toured the country, inspecting military installations. He hauled contractors before his committee and held their feet to the fire. As a result, some went to jail, better facilities were built, and Truman became a hero to a lot of people.
And that’s why, two years later when FDR began looking for someone to join his ticket as vice-president who was untainted by scandal and considered a paragon of integrity, Truman was his man.
It’s fun being all-knowing, isn’t it?
That might be the attraction to studying history; we read it knowing full well how these things worked out.
That magazine, published in late 1942, gives such glowing reports of military actions that unless one knew his history, he might never suspect that this was the worst year of the war for the Allies. Very few good things happened for “the good guys” that year. (There was the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Midway. But that was about it.)
Do you read your Bible? Those who read the daily newspaper and know their Bibles have a kind of omniscience in some areas. We know how many things are going to turn out.
We watch teenagers rebel against their parents and flout the laws and abuse their bodies with alcohol and drugs, and we know their future–unless someone intervenes to reach them with the gospel.
We watch parents neglect their children in order to “have a little fun” and we know the result of this: pure disaster for all concerned.
One reason it was such fun watching Back to the Future in 1985 was that when Marty McFly traveled back in time to see his parents as teens, we knew the future. The pleasant surprise of that movie was that because Marty had gotten through to his dysfunctional teenage father and instilled confidence in him, when he returned to the “present,” everything was different.
Today is yesterday for tomorrow’s generation. We who know how these things work–with our own tiny slice of omniscience–must labor to get through to the kids with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and encourage/support those succeeding in this kind of ministry.