Firing from the Lip

A collection of thoughts, stories, tall tales, half truths and opinions from the Heartland of America.

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Location: Missouri, United States

An irreverent but loving grandfather of five and father of three, I enjoy writing of family, love, life, and the never ending fascination of it all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wine With Patton; Near The End With The Third Army In Europe

During the push of the U.S. Third Army across Europe in the closing days of World War II, the war-weary troops of General George Patton began to allow themselves to dream of the end of the conflict.

The Germans fought desperately, knowing defeat was all but certain. Caught in the bloody pincer of the Soviets on one side and the Americans on the other, they were like “a mad dog trapped in a corner” according to Sgt. Marvin Cook. Mr. Cook said the worst fear he had was dying this late in the game, with victory so close at hand. It was a “bitter and hard-fought” end to the Thousand Year Reich.

Even in the heat of those last terrifying days of World War II in Europe, American servicemen found reason to smile at the antics of their brothers-in-arms. Mr. Cook had a friend, a Corporal named Al from New York City, New York that Marvin claims could “find a bottle of wine in Hell.” It seems Al was adept at finding the only surviving bottle of booze in a bombed out village. It was a talent greatly appreciated by his squad, but one the officers were less enamored with.

One memorable day, as Al climbed out of a cellar strewn with bricks and timber from the shelling carefully shielding a crock of wine, the soldiers got an unexpected surprise. After a cursory glance around to make sure no officer was looking, the boys popped the cork and took the chance to taste it. “Damn good stuff, we were so happy to find it and pass it around that we didn’t notice the jeep until it was too late.”

“My heart fell plumb to my stomach when we saw the flag on that jeep. The flag of a General Officer named George S. Patton.” It was the first time Marvin had ever spoken to General Patton, and the exchange between this legendary General and a dogface Sergeant is both comical and telling of both men in extraordinary circumstances.

“What the hell are you men doing? The goddam Germans are that way, and you’re standing here with your thumbs up your asses?” Sgt. Cook, being the highest ranking NCO standing there, was the one to offer the explanation. “Sorry, General. We were just having a quick smoke and talking about going home, sir.”

“Home? Why you ignorant sonsofbitches are going to get killed standing here gawking! What the hell is that bastard hiding behind his back?” “It’s a bottle of wine, sir.” “Wine! Where the fuck did you find wine? Never mind. Don’t just stand there, Sergeant, bring it here.” “Yes, sir!”

Sgt. Cook took the crock from Al, and walked to the jeep to hand it to Patton. He expected to see the General throw it to the ground and proceed to tear into them for drinking. He got a shock when this feared General popped the cork and took a healthy drink. “Jesus! I can’t believe my men are drinking this piss!” Replacing the cork, Patton tossed it back to Sgt. Cook. “Take one drink each, bust that damn bottle, then get your asses in gear. We’ve got a war to win.” “Yes sir, thank you, sir.” “If you find any more goddam wine, if it’s better than that crap, let me know.” “Yes, sir.”

Yelling at his driver to pull out, Patton stared at the men of Sgt. Cook’s company as they moved away, and Cook said he had a smile on his face. “That was my only run-in with that crazy bastard, and I’m glad. He was a tough bird, but we would have followed him into Hell. No, that’s wrong, son. We did follow him into Hell, and he brought us out the other side.”

Two men, a famous General and a tender-hearted, soft spoken, future high school teacher and piano tuner, shared a moment of their lives in a war-torn Belgian village. General Patton probably wouldn’t have remembered it today, but a Sergeant from a small Missouri town will never forget his one face-to-face meeting with “Old Blood and Guts.”


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