George Patton’s Granddaughter Carries on the Legacy of America’s Most Famous General

Helen Patton (FREDERICK FLORIN/Getty)
Helen Patton (FREDERICK FLORIN/Getty)

Gen. George S. Patton is famed for his brilliance in World War II. For his granddaughter, being a custodian of his legacy is a matter a pride—but also a burden.

The relationship between Helen Patton and her grandfather, legendary World War II general General George S. Patton, who died in 1945, remains “cosmic, absolutely cosmic,” she says, with genuine wonder. “He appears to me, he talks to me, he tells me what to say,” Patton says in a wistful but precise tone on the phone from France, where she is overseeing two concerts on June 5 and 7 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day Landings in Normandy.

Their title, “The Patton Concerts: Liberation & Reconciliation For Every Generation,” signals the theme of “forgiveness and cultural understanding” she hopes to achieve through art and music. “Pulling off a ceremony like this has to be as difficult as maneuvering the Third Army,” she deadpans, referring to her grandfather’s famous fighting unit. The performances will include old but also modern music performed by musicians from all over the world: renditions of the Iron Maiden version of “The Longest Day,” and Nena’s 1983 hit “99 Luftballons,” for example, alongside more traditional standards like “The White Cliffs of Dover.”

“There is a great panic that this will be the last big anniversary to feature living veterans from World War II,” says Patton, “but they aren’t wax figures, and we want to bring the memories of that time to a new generation.”

Patton was driving in the dark at 2 a.m. recently when she asked the ever-present spirit of her grandfather what song she should sing at the concerts, which will take place on Utah Beach in Normandy. Suddenly, she says, a standard from A Chorus Line flashed into her mind: “What I Did For Love.” “I don’t really know it, but I began singing it at the top of my lungs,” Patton says. “It didn’t even feel like my own voice, but I thought, ‘That’s the song I’ll sing.’” Her grandfather “absolutely takes me by the hair, hand, and throat and has led me through his past. He is guiding me, whether I want him to or not.”

Her grandfather’s charisma, foul mouth, and inspiring leadership were memorably captured by George C. Scott in the 1970 film Patton, including his famous, profanity-laden “Third Army speech” from 1944. “Americans play to win all the time,” Patton told the U.S. 6th Armored Division. “The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.”

The family felt the 1970 film captured the essence of Patton, even if Scott didn’t look or talk like him. He was bluff, inspirational to the men, a brilliant tactician. Helen Patton confesses it’s a strange deck of ancestral cards that she’s been handed: she is both proud custodian of her grandfather’s name and weary burden-bearer at times where would just like “to escape him.” Since 2004 she has overseen the Patton Trust, and a foundation in the family name since 2008, dedicated to supporting troops and their welfare. She is both proud of her work and representing soldiers, but she also says, “I’m tired of Patton. My whole life is brushing with his. Fortunately I have fantastic friends and loved ones who allow me to be myself.”

Twenty-five years ago, Patton had a minor car accident, which upset her greatly. It was only a prang, but she had had “very strange nightmares” all her life about having a car accident, and her grandfather died after a mysterious road accident in Germany, months after the war ended in 1945. “We were raised with this mystique about the accident being the chink in this important legacy,” she says. “One car accident was embossed on our minds as definitive and pivotal.” Her accident in 1989 occurred in Washington, D.C.: either she or the other driver ran a stop sign. “It just shocked me, I swear I would have a chauffeur if I could ever afford one.”

Coincidences and concordances linking her to her grandfather litter her life, she says. She considered becoming a nun in a French abbey that was once liberated by her grandfather. By chance she encountered the woman whose grandfather had been General Patton’s warrant officer, who composed the Prayer for Fair Weather, which Patton sent to the Third Army’s soldiers in Christmas 1944.

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SOURCE: Tim Teeman 
The Daily Beast

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