By Brian M. Sobel
It has been interesting to see the success of the best selling book, Killing Patton, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. The book has been sitting on the New York Times Best Sellers list for weeks. As the author of The Fighting Pattons, I have been correlated with the Patton story for many years. In that time I have written about Patton for a variety of newspapers and magazines, along with the book.
When I first heard about the Killing Patton project, I assumed it would investigate Patton’s death, something that is covered in my book, and in my view was the terribly tragic outcome of an automobile accident. Having read previous O’Reilly/Dugard “killing” books, I knew the authors typically give the reader a run-up to the death of say, President Abraham Lincoln, the subject of one of their other books in the series, and then provide all of the theories about the death. In the case of Patton’s death, considering his heroics on the battlefield, it is hard to put one’s arms around the idea that a traffic accident between Patton’s vehicle and an Army truck would snuff out the life of such an historical figure, especially when the two other people in the car that day were uninjured. In that context O’Reilly and Dugard provide an interesting and detailed look at the last year of World War Two, with a particular focus on Patton and his great Third Army, along with his contributions to the victory in Europe. Additionally, the last section of the book details the accident and then explores those who may have wanted Patton dead.
As a reader will learn in my book, The Fighting Pattons, it is my firm belief Patton was in a very unfortunate accident, paralyzed as a result, and died several days later from complications as a result of the accident and his paralysis. Not very glamorous to be sure, but my belief is based on an examination of all the records made available to me, along with my interviews with the other two people in the car that day, Woody Woodring, Patton’s driver, and General “Hap” Gay, Patton’s chief of staff. In fact, to the best of our knowledge I am the only author who ever managed to speak with both individuals concerning their recollections of the accident. Again, my conclusion is simple: Patton died as a result of an accident. Thousands of people die every year in accidents and the list includes famous and not-so-famous people. Patton happened to be famous.
Over the years a number of conspiracy theories arose concerning Patton’s death, including the idea that the Russians wanted him dead because he represented a post-war threat should he be able to convince the Allies to go after the Russians, which history records Patton believed would eventually need to occur. Other possible conspirators included disgruntled current or former members of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the wartime intelligence agency), or perhaps Army or other military types who held a grudge against Patton and wanted him out of the picture, and the list goes on. While people from the entities listed may have greatly disliked Patton, it is highly unlikely a solid plan was ever designed, or more importantly for the story, the means ever secured to kill Patton, although it makes for a great story. That reality however, has not stopped numerous books and even a motion picture from recounting the “assassination.”
So, as one of the authors who spent time researching the Patton story, and uniquely to almost all the others, spending a great deal of time with the Patton family and Major General George S. Patton, the son of the World War Two general, I am pleased to see the popularity of Killing Patton, if only because it keeps the accomplishment of Patton in the discussion of great battlefield leaders. In their book Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard kindly write, “There is a vast body of excellent literature about Patton, so there is no shortage of published resources…Beyond the words of Patton himself, the writings of (three other writers and)…Brian Sobel (The Fighting Pattons) were particularly helpful. Each of them writes of Patton as if they knew him…” Nice words indeed.
Brian M. Sobel is the author of The Fighting Pattons. Additionally, Sobel has authored another book, an anthology, and many articles for national magazines and newspapers including The Wall Street Journal.
Learn more about Patton’s death in this excerpt from The Fighting Pattons.