- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

CHIRIACO SUMMIT, Calif. — Add sweat and stamina to "blood and guts" and you begin to explain the atmosphere Gen. George S. Patton created for soldiers in the sprawling Desert Training Center during World War II.

Twenty of the U.S. Army's 87 divisions that served in the war, constituting some 1 million men, learned the basics for battle in an 18,000-square-mile desert landscape that extended from southern California into western Arizona and southern Nevada. The training center, which operated for two years until D-Day preparations siphoned off its support staff in the spring of 1944, eventually was dismantled by, among others, Italian prisoners of war.
Traces remained, however, and since 1988, some of them have been displayed in the General Patton Memorial Museum. On the barren drive from Palm Springs to Blythe, this historical nugget just off Interstate 10 is worth an hour's stop for anyone who wants to learn more about a 20th-century military legend.
Gen. Patton oversaw selection of the center's site and its Camp Young headquarters, where the museum stands. Within four days of Camp Young's opening, the story goes, Gen. Patton led the training center's first troops on a desert hike. The dry, hot terrain tested soldiers' mettle and toughened them for the sands of North Africa and other battle zones.
"Patton's training regime required that all the men run a mile in 10 minutes with full pack and rifle by the time they had been at DTC a month," a museum display reports. "Unaccustomed to the rigors of the desert, initially the units constantly suffered from heat prostration, severe cramps brought on by the heat, and general weakness from constant exposure to the elements.
"Required to take salt tablets three times a day, the men actually ate dozens. It took several weeks to get used to the desert, living on a gallon of water a day. By the time their 13-week training period was over, the men who had trained at the Desert Training Center were the best-trained, best-conditioned men on the front lines."
The museum's exhibits include fighting gear and other items soldiers used at the center, including hygiene kits. Some of the spoils of war are displayed, too, such as a few bright-red German fabrics with the swastika insignia.
It was in Africa and Europe that Gen. Patton, an aggressive tactician, made his mark. By late 1942, he had left the center to lead troops into Morocco. Later he oversaw the retaking of Sicily and, one day after D-Day, he arrived in northern France to begin a charge into Germany, along the way playing a key role in preventing a U.S. catastrophe at the Battle of the Bulge.
A few months after World War II ended, Gen. Patton was mortally injured in a vehicular accident. The museum marks that occasion with a Dec. 21, 1945, front page from the Call Bulletin in San Francisco, whose main headline screams, "Patton Dies." He was 60.
A 26-minute video, shown continuously during the day, further chronicles a military man whose reputation was forever tainted by an incident re-created in the 1970 film "Patton," for which George C. Scott won an Oscar for best actor. While visiting severely wounded troops during the war, Gen. Patton came across a patient who showed no signs of injury. The contrast between this patient and those who had lost limbs, their eyesight or whatever to battle overwhelmed the general. He slapped the patient, who turned out to be a shell-shock victim.
Gen. Patton soon apologized and admitted his error. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for a man regarded as a soldier's soldier. In the museum's film, one of his press officers, Lt. Col. Lester Nichols, implies the slapping incident was blown out of proportion.
"Any other general under these circumstances might have done the same thing," he says.
Mr. Nichols also addresses Gen. Patton's nickname, "Old Blood and Guts."
"I'm so struck by how easy it was to talk to him," he says. "He wasn't all blood and guts as people thought he was. He was very compassionate, particularly when he brought medals into the field hospitals and presented them to troops." Indeed, in a clip of Gen. Patton giving a stateside speech sometime between the surrenders of Germany and Japan, the general appears to be fighting back tears while talking of his men's ultimate sacrifices.
Curator Jan Holmlund says visitors include many German and Japanese tourists, evidence that the sands of time have healed some wounds.
c Distributed by Scripps Howard

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide