The Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor in Fort Knox, Ky., is a tribute to the colorful Gen. George S. Patton Jr., featuring personal letters, awards and even his swagger stick.
By KATHRYN LEMMON
Published May 25, 2003
[Photo by Kathryn Lemmon]
ABOVE: The interior of the generals mobile HQ, a remodeled truck, includes the original furnishings.
RIGHT: A life-sized, carved-wood statue of Gen. Patton.
FORT KNOX, Ky. - A prophecy was fulfilled in December 1945. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. died on foreign soil, as he himself had predicted. It was the end of an often controversial career for the leader nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts."
Though he saw action in the pursuit of Pancho Villa in Mexico and again in World War I, Patton is best remembered for his exploits in World War II. His legacy is commemorated at the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox.
Dedicated in 1949, the facility is really three museums in one, preserving historical materials relating to the bullion depository at Fort Knox, the Army's armor branch and Patton.
The collection changes and expands. When the Berlin Wall fell, the museum obtained one of the largest sections to come to the United States. The multicolored graffiti provides a marked contrast to the harsh wall, chunks of which are now scattered across the globe.
A main feature of the museum is the display of tanks. Armor development is traced from the beginning of mechanization to the present, with tanks on display outside and inside the museum.
One of the largest tanks exhibited is the British Mark V Star Tank. It was the first tank/infantry transport vehicle of World War I. Incredibly, it was designed to carry 18 soldiers and a crew of eight.
As a memento of the James Bond movie Goldfinger, the museum has the painstakingly detailed scale model of the bullion depository used in the filming. The model was presented to the U.S. Director of the Mint by the film's producers. The director, in turn, presented it to the museum.
Visitors cannot see the stacks of gold bars that are here. But from U.S. 31 W (Dixie Highway) between Fort Knox and Radcliff, Ky., there is a fine view of that part of the depository building that is above ground.
The museum namesake, George S. Patton Jr., was born in California in 1885. From his earliest years, he believed himself destined to be a great soldier.
Much of his life was spent in the limelight: As a young cavalry officer and athlete, Patton competed in the pentathlon of the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm. He placed fifth.
Patton served as an aide to Gen. John. J. Pershing during the pursuit of Pancho Villa in Mexico in 1916. And in World War I, Patton commanded a tank brigade. He nearly succumbed to wounds from machine-gun fire.
Patton received most of his notoriety during World War II. He was one of the most colorful American generals, due to his dramatic manner, strong-willed behavior and outspokenness.
He constantly pressed his tank troops forward, never wanting to cede ground they had won. His actions brought praise and criticism, but as one captured German officer said, Patton was the "most-feared general on all fronts."
In December 1945, the general died of injuries suffered in a car accident. He was buried at the 3rd Army Cemetery in Luxembourg.
The section of the museum called the Patton Gallery contains a number of personal items. Especially interesting is a carved statue, based on measurements taken during a physical exam in 1944. Carved from a 3- by 7-foot block of basswood, the statue - like the general- easily captures your attention.
Glass cases in the museum contain his fencing epee from the 1912 Olympiad, his West Point football uniform and class ring, his swagger stick and those ivory-handled pistols that won him fame.
Here, too, are some of the decorations and medals awarded the general by Luxembourg, Belgium, Morocco, France, Great Britain and the former Soviet Union.
Patton's mobile quarters are interesting, especially in this age of booming interest in RVs. The vehicle is a converted General Motors truck, the kind used by the military during World War II.
In a letter dated June 1944 and displayed at the museum, Patton wrote, "I have a truck to sleep in. It is quite swell - like the cabin of a cruiser only you can stand up. There is a bed with an air mattress, a wash stand, clothes closet, desk, map board, heater and 110-volt electric circuit with a built-in radio; also a sort of canvas porch effect.
"The horrors of war are fast departing and the fear of booby traps has gone. It can also black out and has a huge map board so one can work at night. It is made out of an obsolete truck body but runs well or at least well enough."
Patton's grandfather is also represented in the museum. During the Civil War, that George Patton rode in the cavalry. He died in the saddle during the Second battle of Winchester, in 1864, and his orderly brought Patton's horse, saddle and saber back through the lines. The saddle and saber are now on display at the Patton Museum.
- Kathryn Lemmon is a freelance writer living in Bloomington, Ind.
If you go
GETTING THERE: Fort Knox is near Radcliff, K., about 25 miles southwest of Louisville. There are no direct flights there from the Tampa Bay area, but Delta, Northwest, American, US Airways and Continental offer connecting service.
The museum is near the Chaffee Avenue entrance to Fort Knox. Admission is free; tours are self-guided. Allow at least two hours to see the inside and outside.
The museum is open year-round, on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on holidays and weekends from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Weekend hours from May-September are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum is closed Dec., 24, 25 and 31 and Jan. 1.