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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Guts and Blood

I think the simplest way to describe George S. Patton is in his own words: as “an outgoing introvert”. He was a poet and a life long klutz, constantly bruising himself and falling off his polo ponies. An Olympic athlete and swimmer, he lost a marksmanship competition in the Stockholm games of 1912 because he was too accurate - the judges ruled his later bulls eyes, which went through the same holes as his earlier bulls-eyes, were misses. They were not. In 1932 Patton led the U.S. Army’s last cavalry charge - against a “bonus army” of protesting U.S. army veterans. He was a lifelong anti-Semite, who smuggled a copy of Hitler’s anti-Semitic “Nuremberg Laws” back to the United States so it could be preserved as an example of the dangers of bigotry. His father served under Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, and a great-uncle was wounded at Picket’s Charge, defending black slavery. But while others refused, Patton requested a regiment of Black tankers be assigned to his Third Army. In late May of 1945, when he made a brief trip home to Los Angeles, he was greeted by a parade and a cheering crowd of 100,000 at the coliseum. But despite his contributions to the victory over Germany, on October 2nd , 1945 he was removed from command because he refused allow Germany to starve (Joint Chiefs of Staff directive #1067). And on December 21st 1945, America’s greatest combat general of the 20th century died as a result of a low speed automobile accident. It was, again in Patton’s own words, “A hell of a way to die.” The terms of his dismissal were insulting and they were meant to be. Patton was ordered by General Eisenhower not to make any public statements or speak to the press. As a result there had been no explanation as to why he had suddenly lost his beloved Third Army, but he was still assigned to Europe which kept him out of sight and away from microphones. It was as if General Eisenhower was already running for President.
On the Saturday before he was scheduled to return to the United States for the Christmas holidays Patton had dinner with his chief-of-staff, Major General Hobart R. “Hap” Gay. According to Gay, Patton had reached a momentous decision. After a lifetime of service, “I am going to resign from the Army,” Gay quoted Patton as saying. “For the years that are left to me, I am determined to be free to live as I want to and to say what I want to”. Patton had inherited a family fortune and he now intended to use the independence the money provided to finish his memoir, “War As I Knew It”, and tell his “unvarnished truth” about Eisenhower and General Marshall. The next day, Sunday, December 10th , Gay and Patton set off at 7 a.m. for a hunting trip in the forests outside of the Bavarian Cathedral town of Spry. It was a cold and overcast morning. They traveled in two vehicles, a half ton truck driven by Sergeant Joe Spruce and a 12 foot long 1938 Cadillac Fleetwood sedan, all steel and chrome with a spacious interior, powered by a Detroit V-8 block engine, and driven by Patton’s regular driver, 20 year old Private first class Horace L. Woodring. Fewer than 600 of these cars had been built and how this one got to Europe is unknown. Part of the limousine’s stylish additions included a window and divider between the driver’s and passengers’ compartments and a small rectangular silver plaque on the divider with the word “Fleetwood ” embossed in sweeping script.
About 11:30 they exited the autobahn at Mannerheim and took route 38 south.On the outskirts of the devastated city the two vehicle convoy came to the multiple tracks of the bombed out railroad yards. Here Sergeant Spruce sped ahead, while the Cadillac was required to stop for a short freight train.
Woodring then crossed the tracks and resumed his speed of about 30 miles an hour. He wrote later that the road was clear ahead except for an on-coming 2 ½ ton truck – a deuce and a half – about a half mile up the road. Stretching along both sides of the road was a quartermaster’s tank repair depot, and burned and broken tanks lined the road. As they sped past this detritus Patton, who was sitting on the right side of the bench seat, commented on the wastage of war. One tank caught his attention and he turned his body and pointed off to the left, saying, “And look at that heap of rubbish”. Gay turned to look to look and so did Woodring, the driver. It was 11:48 a.m. The approaching truck suddenly turned to its left, across the path of the Cadillac. Woodring slammed on his brakes, but it was too late. At impact the truck was going no more than 15 miles an hour - the Cadillac probably less than twenty-five. But nobody in either vehicle was wearing a seat belt. The big Cadillac slid a few feet and then thudded into the right side external fuel tank of the truck. The impact was so light that the fuel tank was not cracked. The front chrome grill of the Cadillac however was shattered like a boxer's front teeth, and the left front wheel hub was twisted and broken off, revealing the tire beneath. But the massive steel frame of the Cadillac performed its unintended function and transferred most of the force of the accident directly to the passengers’ bodies. Sitting in the backseat, General Gay was thrown forward and then back against the seat. And Patton, who was already leaning forward and half turned to his left, was thrown off the bench seat and fell against the divider, his forehead striking the plaque, tearing a small section of skin and bending his neck sharply backward. In recoil he then fell across Gay.Patton immediately asked Gay if he was hurt. “Not a bit, Sir”, Gay assured him. Gay then asked, “And you, General?” Patton immediately replied, “I think I’m paralyzed. I’m having trouble breathing, Hap.” Woodring helped Gay out from beneath Patton, made sure help had been summoned and then approached the driver of the truck, Private Robert Thompson. Woodring would later contend that Thompson was drunk, but Patton insisted that no actions be taken against the truck’s driver.A doctor and an ambulance quickly arrived, and at 12:45 p.m. Patton was admitted to the 130th Station Hospital at Heidelberg. An x-ray instantly revealed what the doctors suspected; a simple fracture of the third vertebra with a posterior dislocation of the fourth vertebra, also known as the Hangman's Fracture. In short, Patton had broken his neck and was paralyzed from the neck down. There was still a chance he could recover, but that would not be known until the swelling of his spinal cord had gone down. He was taken to surgery and two “Crutcheld” (fishhook) tongs were inserted below his cheek bones to apply traction to his neck. By the next morning the traction had reduced the dislocation, but the swelling had not yet gone down.To the constant stream of senior officers who visited him, Patton was cheerful. In private to his nurse he was depressed and frightened. Eisenhower did not visit, nor did General Bradley, Patton's immediate superior. Then on the morning of the 12th Patton reported that he could move his left index finger, slightly. His wife arrived that morning, having been flown from California. She warned the doctors that the General had a history of embolisms.On the 13th Patton showed strength in his left arm and right leg. But that was as far as the improvements were to go. Slowly the sixty-one year old began losing ground. He was given plasma and protein, as albumen. On the 20th of December Patton reported trouble breathing. An X-ray confirmed that he had a blood clot in his right lung. He was now suffering from pneumonia and was placed on oxygen. Late on the 21st of December Patton whispered to his wife, “It’s too dark. I mean too late.” Shortly afterward he died, from injuries which could have been prevented with a simple seat belt.The official cause of death was listed as heart failure. On Christmas Eve, 1945, in a pouring rain, General George S. Patton was laid to rest in the U.S. military cemetery at Hamm, Luxembourg. As the casket was lowered a chaplain repeated one Patton's favorite sayings: "Death is as light as a feather."I would prefer to remember General George S. Patton by something else he said. “Anyone, in any walk of life, who is content with mediocrity is untrue to himself and to American tradition." But I fear I will always remember that but for a simple seat belt, it was, “A hell of a way to die.” - 30 -

Sunday, August 23, 2009

LADY MATILDA

I believe Sara Wilson was one of the most amazing people of the 18th century. And if you've never heard of this pretty, clever girl born with jet black hair around 1754 in the west midlands of England, don't be concerned; few people have. She was the daughter of a bailiff (or superintendent) of an estate, and at 16 was recommended for employment as a maidservant to Caroline Vernon, the second Lady Grosvenor, who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte, wife to King George III. The Lady Grosvenor was herself “…a spinster” of just 17 years of age. Overnight this girl from the countryside found herself living in the Queen’s house (now Buckingham Palace) in the center of the largest city in the western world. There Sara saw royalty up close and she advanced from “…opinionated child to a stoic onlooker…”. She had to care for Lady Grosvenor’s clothing, help dress and undress her, serve her meals and see to her chamber pot at night. And then, in 1771, Sara was accused of stealing jewelry from the queen. There is a problem with this story, and his name was Henry, Duke of Cumberland, the younger brother to the King. In 1766 Henry had secretly married a commoner (above), Maria Wapole, which made him a scandal. He was also “…fierce of temper, frivolous of character, and foppish in his dress…In the year 1770, the attentions of the duke to Lady Grosvenor were so marked, and so ridiculous, that everybody talked about them…"He followed her about in disguises, often betraying himself by his fopperies and imbecility…” (pp65-66, Lives of the Queens of England; Dr. John Doran, 1855). Perhaps the Duke was suffering from the same infirmaries which would shortly produce the “Madness of King George III”, his older brother. If he had been the one caught stealing jewelry (but Lady Grosvenor’s chambers) it would have been symptomatic, and a scandal requiring Lady Grivenor to leave court. In 1771 the Duke was finally ordered from court himself. And while there is no evidence that he was responsible for what happened to the maidservant of Lady Grosvenor, Sara Wilson, his guilt would explain certain odd events that followed. Sara was arrested and charged with sneaking into the Queen’s private quarters, breaking into a locked cabinet and stealing a ring, a dress and a miniature portrait of Queen Charlotte. What a 17 year old servent girl, less than a year out of the countryside, with no room of her own, would have done with such items, begs reason. But guilty or not, Sara was completely at the mercy of “her betters”. And where scandal might have attached if the same items had been stolen from 18 year Lady Grosvenor, none was dared implied of the Queen. Sara was convicted and given the option of either hanging or transportation. In July of 1771 she boarded a prison ship bound for Baltimore in the colony of Maryland. And somehow she took with her most of the damming evidence against her; the ring, the dress and the miniature portrait of the Queen (below).The 4-7 week trip probably came close to killing her: “…during the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting…fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy… The misery reaches the climax when a gale rages for 2 or 3 nights and days…Children from 1 to 7 years rarely survive the voyage…warm food is served only three times a week, the rations being very poor and very little..."...The water which is served out of the ships is often very black, thick and full of worms, so that one cannot drink it without loathing, even with the greatest thirst." (pp 25-31 Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750” Gottlieb Mittelberger) And those were conditions for persons who paid for the privilege. Felons were not so well accommodated. Sara then had to survive her arrival. “Every day Englishmen…go on board the newly arrived ship…and select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage money “(ibid). But Sara had an advantage which none of the other transported felons possessed. In the cash poor American colonies the dress alone was worth a small fortune if sold. How did such valuable property miss the sharp eyes of her betrayed mistress back in London, and the servants of the Queen, and the jailers? And how did it escape the purview of Mr. William Devall, her new master? We do not know what Mr. Devall’s occupation was but only that he owned property along Bush Creek, which arises south west of New Market, and flows into the Monocracy River southeast of Frederick, Maryland. If Sara had harbored any hopes of a new life in America, she must have been sadly disappointed. The life of a servant girl was not much different in either country.Gail Collins noted in her book “America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines”, that ““A study of one Maryland County showed that 20% of the women who arrived as servants…wound up in court for bearing illegitimate children. Some of them must have been raped or seduced by the master of their house, but they were still punished as if they had freely chosen….. In one remarkable case, a seven year old girl was reprimanded when she was molested by an adult male. The man that assaulted her was convicted. But the girl's mother was also ordered to punish the young victim in order to increase the child's "grief for her offense." (pp9-10).It should have been no surprise then, that within day’s of Sara’s arrival, in October of 1771, her new master was advertising; "Run away from the subscriber, a servant maid named Sarah Wilson…she has a blemish in her right eye, black rolled hair, stoops in her shoulders, makes a common practice of writing and marking her clothes with a Crown and a B. Whoever secures the said servant woman, or takes her home, shall receive five pistols, besides all cost and charges. William Devall." Sara had only to follow the Monocracy River south a few miles to reach the Potomac River. On that stream’s southern shore was the “Tidewater Aristocracy” of Virginia, desperately anxious to prove to all its sophistication. Englishman Edward Kimber had noted that in Virginia in 1745, “Wherever you travel . . . your ears are constantly astonished at the number of colonels, majors, and captains that you hear mentioned: In short, the whole country seems at first to you a retreat of heroes.”Almost immediately Sara assumed her new persona; Lady Susanna Carolina Matilda: estranged by a family feud from her sister, Charlotte, Queen of England. Sara dazzled her victims with court gossip – real and invented - and in exchange for lodging and meals, the use of a carriage, monetary gifts and letters of introduction to the next plantation house, the Lady Matilda granted political positions, military appointments and even economic beneficences, none of which were worth the paper they were written on. And few seemed to notice that the lady spoke not a word of German, even though, presumably, that was her native tongue.Over the next two years Lady Matilda traveled down the coast of Virginia and passed on to the backwaters of the Carolinas. On May 13, 1773, there appeared the following item in the bemused “London Magazine”: “Some time ago one Sarah Wilson…assumed the title of the Princess Susanna Carolina Matilda, pronouncing herself to be an own sister to our sovereign lady the queen…she acted her part so plausibly as to persuade the generality that she was no impostor….At length, however, an advertisement appeared, and a messenger arrived from her master, who raised a loud hue and cry for her serene highness". Sara was returned under guard to Bush Creek. For her escape, her term of service was extended by two years. But history was on Sara’s side. In the spring of 1775 the colonists began shooting at British soldiers, and William Devall joined the American forces. In his absence, Sara Wilson slipped away again, this time making her way to British occupied New York City. There she married William Talbot, an officer in the Royal Light Dragoons. When the war ended, the Talbot’s chose not to return to England, where Sara would have been subject to arrest. They settled instead in the bowery of Manhattan, and quickly faded into history. But what an amazing woman Sara was. She became a criminal to survive in normal times, and found normality in a revolution. To call her a commoner misses the point entirely.

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