On Aug. 3, 1943, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton slapped a soldier who was hospitalized for psychoneurosis, accusing him of cowardice. The incident nearly ended Patton’s career.
Patton Slaps Soldiers
Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, commander of the Seventh U.S. Army, visited a military hospital in Sicily on Aug. 3, 1943. He traveled past the beds of wounded soldiers, asking them about their injuries. Coming to the bed of a soldier who lacked visible signs of injury, Patton inquired about his health.
The soldier, 18-year-old Pvt. Charles H. Kuhl had been tentatively diagnosed as having a case of psychoneurosis. He told Patton that he couldn’t mentally handle the battle lines. “It’s my nerves,” he said. “I can hear the shells come over, but I can’t hear them burst.”
Enraged, Patton slapped Kuhl across the face and called him a coward. As Patton left the tent, he heard Kuhl crying and turned back, striking the soldier again and ordering him to leave the infirmary tent. It later emerged that Kuhl had malaria and a high fever.
Sources in this Story
- Time: War's Underside
- HyperWar: U.S. Army in World War II: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: The End of the Campaign: Patton
- Time: Patton and Truth
- The New York Times: Patton’s Career A Brilliant One
A week later, in a far less publicized incident, Patton slapped Pvt. Paul G. Bennet, who had been hospitalized for his “nerves.” News of both incidents reached Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who, on Aug. 17, sent a letter to Patton reprimanding him.
“I am well aware of the necessity for hardness and toughness on the battlefield. … But this does not excuse brutality, abuse of the ‘sick,’ nor exhibition of uncontrollable temper in front of subordinates,” Eisenhower wrote.
Eisenhower ordered Patton to apologize to the men, but, feeling that he was too valuable a leader to lose, allowed him to retain his command. Months later, on Nov. 21, radio broadcaster Drew Pearson revealed to U.S. audiences that Patton had slapped Kuhl. Many members of Congress and the press called for Patton’s removal from command, and outrage over the alleged “cover-up” was also widespread.
The Senate delayed Patton’s confirmation as a major general, and Eisenhower relieved him of his command of the Seventh Army. He would go on to serve as a decoy during the invasion of Normandy and be given command of the Third Army, which he brilliantly led in an Allied victory in the Battle of the Bulge.
Biography: George S. Patton
- General George Patton Museum
- “Patton” (DVD)
- “War As I Knew It,” by George S. Patton
- “Patton: A Biography,” by Alan Axelrod
Patton was one of the most skillful and controversial generals in U.S. history. Nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts,” Patton was known for his fearlessness, outspokenness, and his love of warfare. Gen. Patton died on Dec. 21, 1945, 12 days after he was in a car accident.
“Audacious, unorthodox, and inspiring, he led his troops to great victories in North Africa, Sicily, and on the Western Front,” wrote The New York Times. “Nazi generals admitted that of all American field commanders, he was the one they most feared.”