Gen­eral Ge­orge Pat­ton Mu­seum



Few wars in Amer­i­can mil­i­tary his­tory pro­duced more mem­o­rable lead­ers with dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties than World War II. The global, sin­is­ter na­ture of this par­tic­u­lar con­flict gave rise to some of the great­est and most con­tro­ver­sial flag rank of­fi­cers that the U.S. mil­i­tary has ever pro­duced.

No small mea­sure among them is Gen­eral Ge­orge S. Pat­ton, most famed for his com­mand of the Third Army in France and Ger­many af­ter the D-Day in­va­sions at Nor­mandy. How­ever, he was also at the helm of op­er­a­tions in Casablanca and Si­cily. Less of­ten dis­cussed by most ma­jor his­tory texts are his tours of duty in World War I and the Pan­cho Villa Ex­pe­di­tion of 1916 (some­times re­ferred to as the Puni­tive Ex­pe­di­tion).

Through­out all three of these cam­paigns, Pat­ton’s par­tic­i­pa­tion was in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to ar­mored com­bat. The Puni­tive Ex­pe­di­tion was the U.S. Army’s first cam­paign to in­clude mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles. In World War I, he was one of the first tank com­man­ders in our new ar­mored di­vi­sions. He even taught at Amer­ica’s tank school in France. Be­tween the two World Wars, he re­mained an in­te­gral part of Amer­ica’s fledg­ling ar­mored corps — pro­vid­ing key in­put on train­ing and doc­trine de­vel­op­ment.

For decades, Fort Knox, Ken­tucky, was the home of Amer­ica’s tank force. Our se­nior edi­tor is per­son­ally a twotime alumni of Fort Knox — first for the Ar­mor Of­fi­cers’ Ba­sic Course, then for the Army Re­con­nais­sance Course. So when he heard that RECOIL was plan­ning to go be­hind the scenes at

the Pat­ton Mu­seum, he vol­un­teered as trib­ute. While the cur­rent Ar­mor School is now lo­cated at Fort Ben­ning, Ge­or­gia, any old-school tanker or cavalry scout will tell you that Knox will al­ways be the spir­i­tual home of Amer­ica’s ar­mored force. By no co­in­ci­dence, the Pat­ton Mu­seum is still lo­cated in the Blue­grass State, ad­ja­cent to Amer­ica’s most fa­mous gold de­pos­i­tory.

The structure of the mu­seum it­self is in­ter­est­ing. Not en­tirely chrono­log­i­cal, the ex­hibits are set up to be viewed as a lead­er­ship mu­seum — an un­con­ven­tional yet poignant ap­proach, par­tic­u­larly for the roughly 30,000 ROTC cadets who train at Fort Knox ev­ery sum­mer. Dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the mu­seum fea­ture hand­picked items from the col­lec­tion, ar­ranged along­side plac­ards de­scrib­ing episodes from Gen­eral Pat­ton’s life that high­light the var­i­ous army lead­er­ship val­ues.

For those who didn’t have the plea­sure of army val­ues be­ing beaten into them the old-fash­ioned way, they are: loyalty, duty, re­spect, self­less ser­vice, honor, in­tegrity, and per­sonal courage. And yes, as an acro­nym, they do in­deed spell LDRSHIP.

Ad­mis­sion to the mu­seum is free, but it runs en­tirely off of vis­i­tors dona­tions so, if you do make the trip, please con­sider mak­ing a small con­tri­bu­tion to their ef­forts. The ex­pe­ri­ence is com­pletely self-guided, and the staff rec­om­mends you bud­get about an hour-and-a-half to walk the en­tire place. If you’re a true Pat­ton fan or gen­eral mil­i­tary his­tory afi­cionado, we sug­gest you al­lot a lit­tle more time than that. We spent the sug­gested 90 min­utes just on the first ex­hibit alone.

That very first ex­hibit is Pat­ton’s

’38 Cadil­lac staff car — the very ve­hi­cle he was rid­ing in when he died in 1945. In a prac­ti­cally im­mea­sur­able ges­ture of gen­eros­ity, we were al­lowed to get up close and per­sonal with the in­te­rior of the car that Pat­ton was in when he suf­fered an even­tu­ally fa­tal in­jury in a car wreck.

On De­cem­ber 8, 1945, the staff car col­lided with a large mil­i­tary truck, throw­ing Pat­ton head first into the glass par­ti­tion be­tween the front and rear cab­ins. This re­sulted in both a

com­pres­sion frac­ture and dis­lo­ca­tion of his C3 and 4 ver­te­brae, as well as a bro­ken neck and cer­vi­cal spinal cord in­jury. He spent 12 days in a hospi­tal in Hei­del­berg be­fore dy­ing at the age of 60 and be­ing buried in Hamm, Lux­em­bourg, along­side fel­low war ca­su­al­ties from his for­mer Third Army — this was per his re­quest to be “buried with his men.”

Un­be­knownst to us un­til this par­tic­u­lar visit, a mul­ti­tude of con­spir­acy the­o­ries sur­round Pat­ton’s death, in­clud­ing that he was as­sas­si­nated by ei­ther the Soviet NKVD (pre­de­ces­sor to the KGB) or our own OSS (pre­de­ces­sor to the CIA). The­o­ries spec­u­late that he was poi­soned, shot, or that the truck hit his car de­lib­er­ately. Ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sion with the mu­seum staff as­sure us that the truth is far more mun­dane and, in that nor­malcy, even more tragic.

Al­most ev­ery in­di­vid­ual ex­hibit in the Pat­ton Mu­seum has a sim­i­larly rich, in­tensely per­sonal story be­hind it. From his child­hood toys that he la­beled and dated him­self to the 66 in­di­vid­ual weapons he col­lected or was gifted through­out his ser­vice, in­clud­ing the ma­chine gun that wounded him in World War I — which he re­cov­ered from the en­emy ma­chine gun nest and had shipped home.

In an in­ter­est­ing and uniquely Ken­tucky twist on the life and times of this larger-than-life war hero, our visit to the Pat­ton Mu­seum was fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by a trip to the unique fam­ily owned Bound­ary Oak Dis­tillery in nearby Rad­cliff, Ken­tucky. While not of­fi­cially con­nected to the Pat­ton Mu­seum, they share a unique over­lap via a par­tic­u­larly ob­scure piece of the Gen­eral’s legacy.

One of the items on dis­play at the mu­seum is a foot­locker Gen­eral Pat­ton had con­verted to a por­ta­ble bar. He was known for mix­ing a cock­tail of his own recipe that he named Ar­mored Diesel. It was al­legedly served to all of his staff dur­ing meet­ings. The recipe com­monly cited by the mu­seum is sim­ply bour­bon, shaved ice, sugar, and le­mon juice. Hav­ing said that, the ac­tual con­tents of Ar­mored Diesel

as poured by Pat­ton him­self could’ve con­tained a mix­ture of just about any­thing in­clud­ing whiskey, scotch, white wine, and even cherry juice. Fel­low vet­er­ans may re­mem­ber sim­i­lar con­coc­tions un­der the catchall ban­ner of Grog, served most of­ten at unit-level din­ing func­tions.

Bound­ary Oak pro­duces a some­what more palat­able ver­sion of Ar­mored Diesel — they’re tight lipped about the ex­act in­gre­di­ents and process. But we’d have been re­miss not to give it a taste for our­selves. While it’s def­i­nitely far more palat­able than a mar­riage of scotch and wine, it’s wholly unique, even in the heart of bour­bon coun­try. You won’t for­get you’re drink­ing it. It’s avail­able by the bot­tle and in sev­eral vari­a­tions of a col­lectable pre­sen­ta­tion box, with his­tor­i­cal notes about both the drink and the man.

There are few great lead­ers who don’t also breed con­tro­versy. Gen­eral

Ge­orge S. Pat­ton was no ex­cep­tion. But his legacy as a con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional sol­dier and in­tensely skilled bat­tle­field com­man­der are matched by only a hand­ful across the an­nals of mil­i­tary his­tory. At time of writ­ing, the Pat­ton Mu­seum at Fort Knox had re­cently shut down for sev­eral months of in­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions. The pro­jected re-open date is June 1, 2018. We hope to re­turn for our­selves and take a look at all the im­prove­ments cur­rently be­ing im­ple­mented. It’s a uniquely per­sonal lens through which to view both World War his­tory and the bal­anc­ing act of ef­fec­tive com­bat com­mand.

The Pat­ton Mu­seum shares the outer edge of Fort Knox with the famed gold de­pos­i­tory.

But get­ting inside there is a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult.

Gen­eral Pat­ton’s staff car — a “1938-and-a-half” model. The front end was re­built from a 1939 car af­ter the col­li­sion that would prove fa­tal for Gen­eral Pat­ton.

Top, right: The only weapon to ever wound Ge­orge S. Pat­ton: a ma­chine gun that Pat­ton him­self re­cov­ered from a bunker af­ter be­ing hit by it. Bot­tom, right: The Gen­eral’s famed ivory-han­dled wheel­guns. De­spite com­mon mis­con­cep­tion, they were nei­ther pearl-han­dled nor a match­ing set of sin­gle ac­tions.

Above: Pat­ton may have been his own best mu­seum cu­ra­tor, go­ing so far as la­bel­ing his own child­hood weapons for fu­ture ref­er­ence.

Right: This ap­par­ent wax statue of Pat­ton is ac­tu­ally carved en­tirely from a sin­gle block of wood. Far right: The per­sonal sad­dle of Julio Cardenas — Poncho Villa’s sec­ond-in-com­mand. Pat­ton took this sad­dle af­ter shoot­ing Cardenas off of it. You can’t see the blood stains from this an­gle but, trust us, they’re there. Be­low: The walk­way ap­proach­ing the mu­seum fea­tures sev­eral tanks from var­i­ous parts of Amer­i­can ar­mored his­tory.

The Pat­ton sig­na­ture Ar­mored Diesel cock­tail pro­duced by Bound­ary Oak comes in a classy “foot locker” style col­lec­tor’s box. At Bound­ary Oak, the trucks are aged as thor­oughly as the bour­bon.

Un­like sev­eral oth­ers we’ve toured, Bound­ary Oak de­fines the bou­tique dis­tillery — typ­i­cally pro­duc­ing one bar­rel per month at the time of this writ­ing.

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