General George Smith Patton Jr.’s staff car is in Chicago for the 2012 Chicago Auto Show for the first time ever! In fact, according to Nathan Jones, curator for
The General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox, Kentucky, it is the first time the vehicle has left the museum since they acquired it back in 1951.
The vehicle is on display along with some of the newer vehicles in the army’s arsenal as part of the U.S. Army’s Auto Show Display. The vehicle is not only a
great piece of military history but has also been the subject of much debate and conspiracy theory. It wasn’t merely the car that General Patton was driven
around in but it was the car that transported the General to the crash that eventually caused his death!
Prior to meeting with Curator Jones, who is an Army veteran himself, I had read different conspiracy theories concerning Patton’s death. All of the theories center on General Patton being murdered or assassinated for reasons ranging from Eisenhower ordering his death because he saw him as a political threat to the U.S. itself ordering the assassination because our government was afraid Patton was going to drag us into another war with Russia. Curator Jones who is an amazing Patton historian told me in no uncertain terms that General Patton’s death was nothing more than an accident.
It was December 9, 1945, the war was over and General Patton was on a pheasant hunting trip with his chief of staff, Major General Hobart R. Gay in the
countryside surrounding Mannheim, Germany. On the return trip General Patton was in the rear passenger side seat and Major General Gay was on the
driver’s side. The driver, PFC Horace L. Woodring was traveling at about 35 mph when an Army 2 1/2 ton truck driven by Tech Sgt. Robert L. Thompson
made an illegal left turn in front of the General’s vehicle and the Cadillac struck the deuce-and-a-half near the front. General Patton was thrown forward
and his head hit the partition that separated the front seats from the rear smashing the small clock that used to exist there. The clock was never
replaced. General Patton was immediately paralyzed from the neck down and died of a pulmonary embolism 12 days later at the military hospital in
Heidelberg just one day before he was scheduled to go home to the U.S. Mr. Jones also told me that General Patton had officially forgiven the drivers of both
vehicles on his death bed and never once suspected that anyone was “out to get him”.
The history of the vehicle itself, however, is probably the real mystery. According to Jones, the vehicle is a 1938 Cadillac Model 75 and not one that
was used by the U.S. military. General Patton actually had sirens installed on the vehicle and loved to make a “Grand Entrance” whenever he arrived
anywhere. After the accident, the front end of the vehicle was replaced with a 1939 Cadillac front end and the replacement grill had to be custom made by
local artisans. The entire engine was replaced with another GM engine and the replacement transmission was from an M24 Tank! Mr. Jones has attempted
to research the origins of the vehicle but without the engine and transmission the original VIN would not be accessible. An associate of Mr. Jones’ recently
located a number plate under the rear chassis of the vehicle but the plate contained 11 numbers while Cadillacs of that time period had 9 digit vehicle
identification numbers. Mr. Jones believed that the U.S. Army merely gave it a random number when it was transported back to the states. He is of the
opinion that the vehicle was more than likely confiscated by U.S. forces during the occupation and General Patton needed a vehicle so it was re-painted,
outfitted with sirens and “drafted” into military service. After the crash, the vehicle’s sirens were removed and it was repainted and given to General Isaac
Davis White who was part of the 15th Army and in charge of the U.S. Constabulary in Germany. In 1951 the vehicle was retired and became part of the holdings of the General George Patton Museum of Leadership where it has been ever since. I asked Mr. Jones if any restoration to the vehicle has been done and he stated that every effort was made to keep it as it had been received back in 1951. It is exactly as it was when General White was finished with it which is why it has a 15th Army emblem and not a 3rd Army emblem and why it no longer contains a HQ number designation as it did when Patton used it. They also did not return the sirens to the vehicle although they still have the sirens in their extensive Patton artifact collection. Mr. Jones told me that General Patton must have had some suspicion that he would be famous someday because he “collected” his own artifacts and went so far as labeling them which ultimately made the museum’s job somewhat easier. In fact, in addition to such things as Patton’s baby socks, saddle, school book bag and side arms, they have the machine gun that wounded General Patton (then Colonel Patton) in World War I.
Being that this a blog on strange and haunted history, I felt obligated to ask Mr. Jones if there were any “ghost stories” associated with the General’s staff car.
After a big smile and a slight eye roll (a reaction that one has to get used to when writing about these things) he told me that there are no stories that he is
aware of concerning the staff car but he has heard a story surrounding another one of the General’s vehicles that is part of the museum’s collections. The
General had a command vehicle that he took with him to the field and that was really a small arms repair truck that had been retrofitted with a sleeping
compartment. They jokingly refer to it as the “Winnebago”. The General had actually used this vehicle during the famous Battle of the Bulge. The volunteer
was preparing the vehicle for display one day and when the volunteer returned to the vehicle is appeared as though “someone” had been sleeping in
the General’s bed!
Conspiracy theories have a tendency to develop when it is hard to accept the irony that surrounds certain facts. Under the leadership of General Patton, the
U.S. Third Army advanced farther, captured more enemy prisoners and liberated more territory in less time than any other army in military history. It
is hard to accept that he could live through two world wars and yet die in a simple vehicle accident one day before being scheduled to return home.
He was buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg along with other members of the Third Army because Patton wanted to be buried with his men. In 1947 his grave was moved to the “head” of his former troops.
General Patton’s car is not scheduled for any other stops and The Chicago Auto Show may be your only opportunity to see the General’s car outside of its
Fort Knox, Kentucky home. I recommend you take the opportunity