A. (BILL) BRANT
Patriot, Chapter 1919
WWII, Sicily) Article September 1998
"A Lieutenant Meets General George
S. Patton, Jr.",
a story in Bill Brant’s own words.
I had not met General George S. Patton,
Jr., until one day in mid-July 1943. But, on that day I met all six feet of
him, and more. Actually, as he peered down at me from a standing position in
his jeep, I could have sworn he was ten feet tall. I had seen the general
several times before in Mostaganem, Algeria, following the Tunisian
Campaign, it’s just that hadn't personally met him. Each time I had seen
him, it was at a distance. However, on this occasion we were up close, and
under circumstances that were not conducive to a very amiable meeting. But,
let me first explain the circumstances.
In early February 1943, I arrived in North
Africa and was assigned to an artillery unit of the 1st Infantry Division.
It is the oldest division in the American Army and it had participated in
the North African invasion. Led by its commander, Major General Terry de la
Mesa Allen, the 1st Infantry Division seized the important city of Oran,
Algeria, and continued on to Tunisia. Here I joined it and fought alongside
those heroes throughout the remainder of the campaign. The dust barely
settled over Tunisia when, with the surrender of the Axis Forces, the
division turned westward. By motor marches, we returned to the vicinity of
Oran and the area liberated months earlier by the "Big Red One. We boarded
a Landing Ship Tank (LST) with all of our guns and equipment about July 5th,
and soon joined the largest amphibious fleet ever assembled.
Early on the morning of July l0th, our LST
rammed through the surf and sand east of Gela, Sicily. After establishing
the beachhead we started driving inland. By July 16th, we were advancing
toward Caltanissetta and I was emplacing some guns just off the main road.
This was no simple task, as I will explain. In Sicily the fields were edged
with stones piled three to five feet high, even without mortar they provided
good fences. Entrances and exits were simply empty spaces left at various
points where domestic animals could be herded through. These were easily
opened or closed with a few poles for a gate. The openings were small,
barely wide enough for a donkey cart, and when adjacent to a road, they were
difficult to get into. Here we were trying to get a large truck and gun
through one of these entrances. I was behind the gun directing the driver
with hand signals. Fortunately, very few vehicles were on the road and all
were headed north toward the front so creating a traffic jam seemed most
unlikely. We were jockeying the gun back and forth as fast as possible to
get off the road without damaging either the gun, truck, or wall. I was
conscious of a vehicle coming up the road, but paid little attention to it
as I concentrated on the hand signals I was giving to the driver.
Then above the noise of my truck and a jeep
engine I heard this strange voice call out, “Get that goddamn gun off the
road lieutenant". Thinking this was some staff officer from battalion or
division, I replied without looking up, "In a minute sir”. Then all hell
broke loose. A fist pounded hard on the hood of the jeep and a very loud,
but squeaky voice shouted, “I don't mean in a goddamn minute lieutenant, I
mean right now!” That got my attention and I looked up. All I could see was
this helmet with the three biggest, shiniest stars I had ever seen. I gave
it the best salute I had while meekly saying, "Yes sir, immediately, sir." I
turned back to see how best to clear the road. I needn't have bothered
because the road was already clear and I could see ammo boxes and other
equipment still falling as the gun and part of the wall followed the truck
into the field. I had the presence of mind to run after my truck and crew as
General Patton's jeep roared off down the road.
I found Section Sergeant
Owens sitting on an ammo box with his head in his hands saying over and
over, "Lieutenant, we'll be busted to A-Rabs, we'll be busted to A-Rabs".
That term had been adopted by the troops in North Africa, meaning just about
the worst thing that could happen to anyone. I certainly didn't dispute Sgt
Owen's words and for the next several weeks I "sweated it out," waiting to
be called before the battalion commander, or even General Allen. Then as
time passed I thought perhaps it would be forgotten by someone as busy as
General Patton. But, just in case he hadn’t forgotten I took every
opportunity to avoid him, As a matter of fact, I never saw General Patton in
person again. However, I must have been one of the first to get the video,
"PATTON", upon its release. I watch it often and still shudder to think what
could have happened to me as a result of meeting the General on that narrow
road in Sicily. I might even have been "busted to A-Rab".