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Death is as light as a feather.

Gen. George S. Patton's legendary and controversial military career continued after his untimely death in December 1945. Today he is buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Harem, Luxembourg, approximately four miles east of Luxembourg City.

At the front of an expansive field of white crosses and Stars of David, Patton's grave stands alone, as though still in command of the 5,076 war dead that rest at his feet--the only such case in an American military cemetery where an officer is separated from those he led. And nearly every day, buses filled with visitors of different nationalities, including many Chinese, come to pay their respects to "Old Blood and Guts."

Born on Nov. 11, 1885, Patton was one of the most colorful of all 20th century military leaders. At the beginning of World War II, Patton commanded the Western Task Force landing in North Africa. He brilliantly commanded the Seventh Army during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. In March 1944, he was given command of the Third Army, which became operational in France in July 1944, after D-Day. When American forces broke through the German defenses after the invasion, Patton's Third Army dashed across Europe and exploited German weaknesses with remarkable success.

But how is it that he came to be buried in the small country of Luxembourg? The tiny duchy is a little larger than the state of New Jersey and bordered by Belgium, France and Germany. On May 10, 1940, it was invaded by the Germans as they swarmed over the Lowlands and France. In August of 1942 Germany announced the inclusion of Luxembourg into the Third Reich. The country remained under Nazi rule until 1944.

The U.S. First Army, which had started the liberation of France on June 6, 1944, pushed the enemy across France and Belgium, and on Sept. 10, 1944, liberated the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. A few months later, on Dec. 16, the Germans returned by surprise during the Battle of the Ardennes, famously known as the Battle of the Bulge. To help repulse the enemy's counter-offensive, the U.S. Third Army, under Patton's command, swung northward from the Metz region to attack the enemy north of Luxembourg City. Luxembourg's final liberation was purchased at tremendous cost. The Battle of the Bulge was fought in the midst of the fiercest Ardennes winter of the century. As many as 75,000 thousand Allied soldiers fell victim to the enemy or the elements, including 19,000 killed in action and 15,000 taken prisoner. By the end of January 1945, the Americans had liberated Luxembourg for the second time, and Patton became the country's national hero.

Shortly after the war ended, Gen. Horace Gay suggested a hunting outing as a distraction for Patton. On the morning of Dec. 9, 1945, (just outside Heidelberg, Germany) Patton sent out with Gay in his sedan. As the car traveled on the empty highway, a 2 1/2 ton truck appeared out of the haze, and Patton's driver could not avoid a collision. Patton was thrown forward and his head struck a metal part of the partition between the front and back seats. Patton was severely injured and said to Gay, "What a hell of a way to die. I think I'm paralyzed."

He succumbed to his injuries on Dec. 21, 12 clays after the accident.

It was not the way Patton wanted his life to end. He felt that a soldier should die from "the last bullet, of the last day, in the last battle." Though he died after the war, the official ending date set by Congress for soldiers to be buried in American cemeteries was Dec. 31, 1946.

General Patton requested to be buried among his men. He did not state any specific location. His wife, Beatrice Patton, given the choice of several cemeteries, chose Luxembourg, possibly because the Third Army had been headquartered there. The body of Gen. Patton was transported from Germany on a special funeral train to Luxembourg. On Christmas Eve 1945, in a pouring rain, he was laid to rest among the men who had fought under him in the Battle of the Bulge. It was almost exactly one year to the day that he broke the back of Hitler's surprise Panzer offensive by relieving beleaguered Bastogne. As the casket was lowered, a chaplain intoned one of Patton's favorite sayings: "Death is as light as a feather."

In 1946, Beatrice Patton visited the cemetery and saw the damage caused to nearby graves by the large number of visitors to General Patton's burial site. On one particular Sunday, guides counted 14,600 visitors. Mrs. Patton requested that the General be moved to the front of the cemetery near the flagpole. But the U.S. Army controlled the cemetery and officials refused this request in order not to make an exception. Normally, all General Officers are buried among the men.

Not being a lady to take "No" for an answer, Mrs. Patton went to see Luxembourg's Grand Duchess, Charlotte. According to Patton's son, Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, "My mother wanted him moved to the head of the cemetery, and I remember her telling the Grand Duchess about the situation and the Grand Duchess saying, 'Bea, if there is any problem the government of Luxembourg will exhume the remains and put them in the [Luxembourg] National Cathedral.'" The public relations ramifications were obvious, and the U.S. Army moved Patton to the front of the cemetery, where he has remained. Late in the 1950s, a portion of Beatrice Patton's ashes were scattered over his grave by their son and one of their two daughters.
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Title Annotation:general George S. Patton
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Previous Article:Luxembourg American cemetery and memorial.
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