The legacy of George Patton Waters
By Peg Eastman
Pat Waters standing beneath the portrait of General George S. Patton by the Polish artist Boleslaw Czedekowski. He is holding the boots Patton was wearing when the crash occurred. His dog Sam sits on the sofa. Photo by Yancey Richmond.
George Patton “Pat” Waters, a member of the board of directors at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, is among the many veterans who have agreed to be interviewed in support of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. The program was implemented last year by Dr. Rorie Cartier, executive director; Susan Marlowe, another member of the board of directors and volunteers from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America with the goal of having this become a permanent feature of the museum. Although the Veterans History Project was created by Congress in 2000, this is the first time it has received wide local support. Others who have lent their support are Medal of Honor Recipient MG James Livingston, USMC (ret.); Rear Admiral James Flatley, USN (ret.), a distinguished Naval aviator; and Cliff Wooldridge, USMC (ret.), awarded the Navy Cross for his service in Afghanistan.
Pat comes from a family with distinguished military roots that trace back to the dukes who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. Just before the American Revolution, Robert Patton, a Scot, settled in Culpepper, Virginia, and from him are descended two Confederate soldiers, one who died in the Third Battle of Winchester and the other who was killed in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. But today, it is Pat’s larger-than-life grandfather, Gen. George S. Patton, who captures the public’s attention.
Born in 1885, Patton was educated at Virginia Military Institute and West Point, competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics and designed the M1913 Cavalry Sabre before he fought in World War I as a tank commander. He helped develop the army’s warfare in the interim between the two world wars and commanded the Second Armored Division when the United States entered World War II. By the time he led his troops into Germany, his place in history and in the hearts of a war-weary nation was assured.
Known as “Georgie” as a child, Pat was nearly five years old when he met his grandfather in the fall of 1945 when the general visited his daughter and her family during his 15-day victory tour of the U.S. The youngster got into his toy pedal-car jeep and waited expectantly for his grandfather to arrive. Resplendent in his army inform, complete with two pistols at his belt and a riding crop, the celebrated general stepped out of his car, and George Patton Waters saluted him from his little jeep. Cigar in mouth, the general walked over and greeted him with a cheery, “Hello. Who are you, you little s---?”
The general brought a footlocker full of war souvenirs as Christmas presents for his four grandchildren. In it was a German helmet with a bullet hole. Young Georgie tried it on and promptly cut his head on the jagged edges of the hole. It made quite an impression on the injured youngster when Patton said, “Georgie, this is a helmet of a hero. He served and died for his country.”
During Patton’s visit, there was a violent thunderstorm. Georgie promptly hid under an old army cot with his boxer dog. Suddenly, he heard ominous boot steps approaching. The general’s hand reached under the cot, and the boxer promptly bit it. Then, covered with blood, the hand reappeared and extracted the youngster. In characteristic form Patton stated, “I’ll be damned if anybody named Georgie will be a coward.” That day his name was changed to Pat, a name that he has had since that fateful encounter. Waters later admitted that Patton “scared the hell out of me.”
After his stateside tour, the general returned to Europe and was injured just before Christmas in a low-speed auto accident. The rest is history.
Pat’s father, John Knight Waters, was a lieutenant colonel when he was captured at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in World War II. He spent “two years, two months and ten days” in German prisoner of war camps. The story of his attempted rescue from Hammelburg is grist for another article. After his release, Waters returned to duty and became commandant of cadets at West Point and served with distinction in Korea and other significant assignments before retiring as a four-star general in 1966. In 1949, he became a member of the Maryland Society of the Cincinnati.
In 1952 when Pat was 11 years old, his mother died. Pat grew up motherless with a father who often moved because of his career. At times, he lived as a foster child in the homes of his father’s military friends. In addition to West Point, he lived abroad and graduated from college about the time war was escalating in Vietnam.
With three generals in the immediate family, when it was time for Pat to serve his country, he preferred to do so in relative anonymity and joined the navy, serving as a combat information officer aboard USS Braine DD 630. After Admiral Elmo Zumwalt became chief of naval operations and created his “new navy,” Pat resigned from the navy and went to work for Coca-Cola in Louisiana.
Pat lasted exactly 364 days before he left the corporate world, borrowed some money and started his own business in Baton Rouge. Unsurprisingly, it was very successful. Pat retired in 2005 and let his son Geordy take over the business.
Today, Pat and his charming wife, Martha, live in a spacious home overlooking a tranquil creek in Mount Pleasant. It has a room full of military memorabilia, including some of Patton’s 1945 Christmas presents. He proudly wears General Patton’s personal ring that his father gave him when he graduated from college. Facing the doorway is a portrait of Pat’s father, Gen. John Knight Waters. (Note: A four-star general is designated simply as “general.”) Pat also has the shirt his father wore when he was shot while trying to escape from Hammelburg POW camp. It has never been washed or mended.
Pat spends much of his time honoring the military. In addition to serving on the board at Patriots Point, he on the board of the General George Patton Museum and Center of Leadership in Fort Knox, Kentucky, which he visits about four times a year. He has been to the Polish camp where his father was a POW and has visited Flossenbürg, Germany, with nine survivors of the Nazi concentration camp. Every May he travels to the Czech Republic as a goodwill ambassador on behalf of the Patton family.
Pat mused that his filial relationship with George Patton is an honor. “You meet people who admired him, and you have an opportunity to express the immense gratitude he had for the 400,000 men who served with him.” He stressed that although the movie “Patton” portrayed the general’s tough exterior well, it failed to convey that inside he was a compassionate, devout man who accepted the responsibility of the awesome mantle that fate had placed upon his shoulders.
On a personal note, Pat considers the “greatest privilege Americans have” is to serve their country in the military. His word for future generations: “The reward is in the journey. Circumstances are what you make them.”
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