Apology for blow at soldier saves post for Patton (11-23-43)

The Pittsburgh Press (November 23, 1943)

Threatened with demotion –
Apology for blow at soldier saves post for Patton

Eisenhower ordered general to make amends after incident in Sicily hospital tent last August
By Donald Coe, United Press staff writer

Private’s letter tells of slapping

Mishawaka, Indiana (UP) –
Pvt. Charles Herman Kuhl wrote to his family from Sicily last August saying he was slapped and kicked by Lt. Gen. George Patton, his wife revealed today.

The letter, dated Aug. 4, said:

Gen. Patton slapped my face yesterday and kicked me in the pants and cussed me. This probably won’t go through, but I don’t know. Just forget about it in your letter.

In later letters, Mrs. Kuhl said, the soldier told of appearing at a hearing and of receiving apologies from the general.

Allied HQ, Algiers, Algeria –
Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. struck a shell-shocked soldier twice in a Sicilian hospital tent last August but apologized for his conduct when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower threatened to “break him” unless he made full amends at once, it was revealed officially today.

A high staff officer, in disclosing the incident, said Gen. Eisenhower explained in reprimanding Gen. Patton that the only reason the chief of the U.S. 7th Army was not relieved of his command immediately was that Army commanders were hard to find and the services Gen. Patton was performing were valuable.

The revelation of the personal exchange between Gens. Eisenhower and Patton showed that the general, known as “Old Blood and Guts,” was ordered to clear himself with all the troops under his command on pain of losing his rank.

The official version revealed Gen. Patton told the soldier he struck:

Why, in the last war, we used to shoot people like you.

The disclosure followed by a day an official statement that Gen. Patton had not been reprimanded and no soldier had ever disobeyed his orders. A spokesman said that had been a “half-truth,” and apologized for it. He said it had been issued in a desire to hold up the full story until it could be presented to all correspondents.

The soldier whom Gen. Patton struck was an artilleryman. After the general left the hospital, the soldier kept asking attendants what would happen to him. He said:

Think of the disgrace. I have a wife and kids. What will they think?

There was no indication of the future disposition of Gen. Patton as a result of the revelation of the incident, which had been an open secret since a couple of weeks after it occurred. However, it was emphasized that Gen. Patton was still regarded by the Army as valuable command material.

He was allowed to retain command of the 7th Army only after he explained that “my feelings got the better of me” and acknowledged in public that he never should have done what he did.

He still holds the command of the 7th Army, which has been in Sicily since the start of the Italian operations and has been completely out of the news since the Sicilian campaign ended.

The War Department in Washington said there was no command, that it was a theater problem and that all details would come from Gen. Eisenhower’s headquarters.

An investigation showed the 24-year-old soldier twice refused to leave the frontlines and finally did so only upon orders and was back in the fighting a week later after Gen. Patton saw him.

Gen. Eisenhower obtained a full report and “took the hide” off Gen. Patton for his action, the officer said.

Gen. Patton apologized to the hospital commander, a nurse and a doctor who watched the episode. This apology was witnessed by C. R. Cunningham, United Press correspondent. He also apologized to the soldier and to the men of the divisions under his command.

Merrill Mueller, NBC correspondent, and Demaree Bess, of The Saturday Evening Post, made a thorough investigation.

Later, Gen. Eisenhower was understood to have asked correspondents not to transmit reports of the incident.

Gen. Patton directed operations in both Tunisia and Sicily, once during the latter campaign disembarking on a beachhead to command a drive against a serious German counterattack. He goes into battle packing pearl-handled frontier model revolvers.

Incident related

As related by the staff officer, here is what happened.

Gen. Patton, on a visit to an evacuation hospital in Sicily early in August, found a soldier in bed wearing the lining to a steel helmet and crying. Gen. Patton asked him what was wrong.

The soldier said:

My nerves, I guess. I can’t stand those shells going over.

Gen. Patton replied angrily:

You are yellow-bellied. Get out of this hospital and back up to your unit at the front.

Blow reported

The soldier continued crying while Gen. Patton, who is 57 and who has gained a reputation for picturesque curses, grew more angry, raging at the soldier.

He finally struck the soldier with the back of his hand, knocking off his headgear, which rolled across the floor. The nurse tried to stop him but the doctor ordered her away. Gen. Patton then went around to others in the tent, telling them all “yellow-bellies” should be sent back to the front.

Gen. Patton returned a second time to the soldier’s bedside, cursed him some more, and again struck him with the back of his hand. The nurse fled crying. The commanding doctor also left because he could not stop the general.

The doctor who had admitted the soldier then escorted Gen. Patton to a car and the general drove off, without investigating how the soldier had been admitted. The incident was seen by at least three hospital staff members as well as most patients.

Talks on shell shock

Mr. Cunningham said that he sat in Gen. Patton’s office during the general’s talk with the hospital commander, nurse and doctor. The doctor, he said, was a psychiatrist. Gen. Patton talked at length on the appearances of shell shock, praised medical work in the Sicilian campaign and then said it was often difficult to tell whether a soldier was actually suffering from such shock or merely trying to escape the front.

In modern war, he said, there should be competent medical authorities who could determine quickly whether a man actually has such a break in nerve. Several times during the meeting, Mr. Cunningham said, a member of Gen. Patton’s staff opened the door to report a similar case had been found and each time Gen. Patton promised to look into it at once. Finally, he thanked them all for coming and invited the nurse to ride back to the hospital in his small private plane.

Inquiry demanded by Congressmen

Washington (UP) –
Senator Claude Pepper (D-FL) said today that Lt. Gen. George S. Patton “should have been court-martialed” for striking a shell-shocked soldier in Sicily, and from other members of Congress rose demands for an inquiry into the case.

House Republican Whip Leslie Arends (R-IL) said there should be “some investigation” as soon as all details of the incident were available. However, no actual steps toward an inquiry were taken in either House or Senate.

Gives source of news

Drew Pearson, columnist and radio commentator who first revealed the Patton incident in a Sunday night broadcast, said his information that Gen. Patton had been reprimanded by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower came from “high War Department officials.” The War Department has not commented on the incident.

Mr. Pearson, in a statement today, proposed that the Senate Truman Committee investigate “the high-ranking officers’ self-protective club.” Mr. Pearson said:

When a soldier strikes an officer, he is shot. When an officer strikes a soldier, it is denied.

Articles of War cited

The Articles of War, governing conduct of the Army, do not specifically prohibit a superior officer from striking a subordinate or an enlisted man. However, students of military law said charges may be brought for such an act under Article 95 of the Articles of War which covers conduct unbecoming an officer or gentleman. Conviction would result in dismissal.

Chairman Andrew J. May (D-KY) of the House Military Affairs Committee, which would normally handle any Patton investigation for the House, said he considered it “a closed case.”

‘Up to Army’

“It is up to the Army to discipline its commanding officers,” Mr. May said, adding that the incident:

…does hurt morale and I believe it has hurt morale more on the home front than on the battlefront.

Mrs. Patton, the general’s wife, apparently referring to yesterday’s denial of the incident by Algiers, criticized the “spreading of nasty gossip.”

She had nothing to say concerning the admission today in Algiers of the denials, but added:

The War Department has denied it. I go by what the War Department says.

The War Department made no denial here.

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