Patton’s Abandoned Rear

I just read a funny World War I story, which I just have to include in my European history papers.  It’s about a future American war hero, General George “Blood and Guts” Patton.  I just added it as a footnote to Chapter 14.  Here it is:

9. The United States established its first tank corps in 1917, and the first American soldier to join was an officer we’ll be hearing a lot from in the next war, then-Captain George S. Patton. Patton guessed that he would be seeing more action with the newly invented armored vehicles than he would if he stayed with the infantry. Before the year was over, Patton, now a colonel, was sent to find a good location in France for a tank training school; he decided a village named Bourg would do, because it had lots of mud to practice driving in. While there, the mayor of Bourg came to him with tears in his eyes, because he had failed to tell Patton of the American soldier who had died in Bourg. Patton quickly checked, and found that no one in his unit was dead, but the mayor insisted that he at least visit the soldier’s grave.

The mayor proceeded to take Patton to a mound of dirt with a stick posted in the ground at one end. Nailed crosswise on that stick was another piece of wood with the words “Abandoned Rear”; evidently the French had mistaken the sign for a cross. It wasn’t a grave but a recently closed latrine; the dirt and the sign had been left by the last person using it!

Patton didn’t tell the French the truth about that spot. In 1944, during World War II, General Patton returned to Bourg and was given a hero’s welcome by those who remembered the last time he was there. He relived memories by visiting his old office and living quarters, and noted that the village was still respectfully maintaining the “grave” of “Abandoned Rear.”

George S. Patton with his FT-17 tank, summer of 1918.

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