George C. Scott’s portrait of World War II General George Patton was my introduction to the famous hero. And, that is a very good film, but the book Killing Patton has an even more narrow focus. Authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard begin at the end, Patton’s untimely death, then jump back a year or so, to meticulously trace Patton’s role (and that of the 3rd Army) in the successful final campaigns against Germany at the end of World War II. General Patton was quite a character, with his ivory handled pistols and flashy uniform, but he also was far more aggressive than other American generals, and actually lost fewer men because he didn’t mess around! Anyway, he did not always suck up to those in authority, spoke his mind on the dangers of the Soviets, thus he made both friends and enemies. The authors label him as the most “audacious” U. S. general, and that’s a good word. I’ve always admired Patton’s forthright approach to war and life. Rather than give away the suggested culprit in Killing Patton, let me say that O’ Reilly and Dugard offer multiple possible persons who might want Patton dead. These authors do seem to believe that one of them was behind several attempts on Patton’s life. Certainly, they make a good case that Patton’s death was not an accident. Killing Patton is a very good book, with plenty of history and just enough mystery to keep it entertaining, and I highly recommend it.
My interest in the book goes beyond my admiration for General George S. Patton. As this Veteran’s Day approaches, my mind has often turned to my uncle, A.L. Dodd, Junior, who was also in Europe. PFC Dodd served as an automatic rifleman in the 9th Army, 75th Division, which was somewhat north of Patton’s 3rd Army in their journey through Europe. My uncle, just nineteen years old, was killed in action in April of 1945, a few days before the German surrender. Of course, my uncle died long before my birth, but family members told me that he was in the Ruhr Valley, and he was shot by a German machine gunner. So, seventy years ago, he died, along with hundreds of thousands of others. This book, with its detailed accounts of the major players in the war, helped me understand what was happening in Europe (and in America) in 1945.
At the time, the United States was very much a singular nation, which rallied to do what was right. Neither Patton nor any of the other U.S. soldiers were perfect men, but many of them performed nearly miraculous feats of bravery— they were heroes.