In August 1943, the famous general George Patton made a mistake that almost ended his career! He was visiting injured soldiers in receiving tents in Sicily, he came across one soldier, Private Kuhl. He didn’t look injured, and Patton asked him what injury he had. Kuhl said that he “couldn’t take it anymore” and Patton lost his temper, hit him and threw him out of the receiving tent.
“Exhibit 1 – Pvt. Charles H. Kuhl, L Company, 26th Infantry, 1st Division, was seen in the aid station on August 2, 1943. A diagnosis of “Exhaustion” was made. He was evacuated to C Company, 1st Medical Battalion. There was a note made on the patient’s Emergency Medical Tag that he had been admitted to Company C three times for “Exhaustion” during the Sicilian Campaign. From C Company he was evacuated to the clearing company and there was put in “quarters” and was given sodium mytal. On 3 August 1943, the following note appears on the E.M.T. “Psychoneurosis anxiety state – moderate severe” (soldier has been twice before in hospital within ten days. He can’t take it at the front, evidently. He is repeatedly returned). He was evacuated to the 15th Evacuation Hospital. While he was waiting in the receiving tent, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., came into the tent with the commanding officer and other medical officers. The general spoke to the various patients in the receiving tent and especially commended the wounded men. Then he came to Pvt. Kuhl and asked him what was the matter. The soldier replied, “I guess I can’t take it.” The general immediately flared up, cursed the soldier, called him all types of a coward, then slapped him across the face with his gloves and finally grabbed the soldier by the scruff of his neck and kicked him out of the tent. The soldier was immediately picked up by corpsmen and taken to a ward tent. There he was found to have a temperature of 102.2 degrees F and he gave a history of chronic diarrhea for about one month, having at times as high as ten or twelve stools a day. The next day his fever continued and a blood smear was found to be positive for malarial parasites. The final disposition diagnosis was chronic dysentery and malaria. This man had been in the Army eight months and with the 1st Division since about June 2d.” (93rd Evacuation Hospital)
The other slapping incident was when he came back to the hospital and discovered Private Bennet. He asked him what was wrong and Bennet said “It’s my nerves”. Patton once again lost his temper and slapped him too!
“Exhibit 2 – Pvt. Paul G. Bennet, C Battery, 17th Field Artillery, was admitted to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital on 10 August ’43. This patient was a 21 year old boy who had served four years in the regular Army. His unit had been with II Corps since March and he had never had any difficulties until August 6th, when his buddy was wounded. He could not sleep that night and felt nervous. The shells going over him bothered him. The next day he was worried about his buddy and became more nervous. He was sent down to the rear echelon by a battery aid man and there the medical officer game him some medicine which made him sleep, but still he was nervous and disturbed. On the next day the medical officer ordered him to be evacuated, although the “boy” begged not to be evacuated because he did not want to leave his unit. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., entered the receiving tent and spoke to all the injured men. The next patient was sitting huddled up and shivering. When asked what his trouble was, the man replied, “It’s my nerves,” and he began to sob. The General then screamed at him, “What did you say?” The man replied, “It’s my nerves, I can’t stand the shelling anymore.” He was still sobbing. The General then yelled at him, “Your nerves, hell; you are just a Goddamned coward, you yellow son of a bitch.” He then slapped the man and said, “Shut up that Goddamned crying. I won’t have these brave men here who have been shot at seeing a yellow bastard sitting here crying.” He then struck the man again, knocking his helmet liner off and into the next tent. He then turned to the admitting officer and yelled, “Don’t admit this yellow bastard; there’s nothing the matter with him. I won’t have the hospitals cluttered up with these sons of bitches who haven’t got the guts to fight.” He then turned to the man again, who was managing to sit at attention though shaking all over and said, “You’re going back to the front lines and you may get shot and killed, but you’re going to fight. If you don’t, I’ll stand you up against a wall and have a firing squad kill you on purpose. In fact,” he said, reaching for his pistol, “I ought to shoot you myself, you Goddamned whimpering coward.” As he left the tent, the general was still yelling back to the receiving officer to send that yellow son of a bitch back to the front line. Nurses and patients attracted by the shouting and cursing came from adjoining tents and witnessed this disturbance. The deleterious effects of such incidents upon the well being of patients, upon the professional morale of hospital staffs, and upon the relationship of patient to physician are incalculable. It is imperative that immediate steps be taken to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.” (93rd Evacuation Hospital)
Patton was severely reprimanded for both incidents by his superiors and ordered to apologize. He even got a harsh reprimand from Eisenhower saying ” I must so seriously question your good judgement and your self discipline as to raise serious doubts in my mind as to your future usefulness. ” He apologized to his men and the two privates that he hurt. They both forgave him. I think it was surprising how seriously the command thought of his actions. I would’ve thought that he would’ve been commended for slapping some “coward” in line. (No pun intended!) The attitude sound pretty enlightened for treating soldiers with shell shock or PTSD today. I guess WW2 had progressed since WW1. There are training videos dated from WW2 about addressing shell shock and it was recovery-oriented rather than punitive.