George S. Patton
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Born in Lake Vineyard, California in 1885, George Smith Patton was the son of a businessman and former military man, also named George Smith Patton. Patton's father excelled academically at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), and he quickly rose in the cadet ranks to First Captain. His greatest honor at VMI was leading the cadet corps in parade at the national centennial celebration in 1876. It was the first time since the end of the Civil War that any military group from a Southern state had been permitted to appear in a Northern city.
After teaching at VMI for several years, Patton moved to California, to be with his dying mother and other family members. There, he married a woman named Ruth Wilson in 1884. Son George was born in 1885.
From a remarkably early age, young George Patton was consumed with a desire to become not just a military man, but a combat general, to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather (who fought and died in the Civil War) and his father. Though his father never saw combat, he was committed to military ideals and the same kind of personal determination to succeed in life that his son quickly adopted.
Patton wanted desperately to go to West Point, but there were no openings for appointments in California the year he graduated from high school. Instead, he enrolled at VMI for one year and finally won the coveted appointment to West Point in 1904. There, his aggressiveness manifested itself, especially on the football field, where he suffered three broken noses and two broken arms as an end. This won both the admiration and the concern of his classmates, but Patton did not let up either on the athletic field or in the classroom. Upon graduation (46th out of 103 classmates), he chose the U.S. Cavalry, hoping to lead charges against whatever enemy the military might encounter.
Though known for his military prowess and wartime exploits, Patton was also famous for the following achievements:
- A competitor in the 1912 Olympics at Stockholm, Sweden, placing fifth in the Modern Pentathlon
- Patton designed a new U.S. Cavalry saber
- Patton wrote the manual explaining how to use the U.S. Cavalry saber effectively
Patton's first wartime action came in 1916, when he accompanied General John ("Black Jack") Pershing to Mexico to fight against Mexican rebel Pancho Villa. Patton killed General Cardenas, head of Villa's bodyguard and other of Villa's men with the single-action Colt revolver he loved. This revolver would become his trademark during World War II.