The digital clocks in the briefing room at U.S. Army Central’s Patton Hall at Shaw Air Force Base show the local time, and the times for Zulu, Kuwait, U.A.E. and Kabul. But Wednesday morning, the base seemed more 9 a.m., December 1944 in the heart of Europe.
The command celebrated the Third Army’s centennial with a living history event. It included a re-enactment by living historians of a daily staff briefing on December 9, 1944 as U.S. General George Patton’s army was preparing for the World War II fight now known as the “Battle of the Bulge.”
“Patton was able at the Battle of the Bulge, move an army, taking them out of one battle and move them 100 miles to a 90-degree turn into another battle,” said Patton impersonator Denny Hair, who works with the Third Army Historical Society. “We’ll never have that kind of force at that kind of place.”
The briefing included interrogation of a captured German officer, conducted in German, who said. “I am a patriot. This war must be ended to save lives.”
“They can look back on the history of the Third Army and take pride in what they do, and they already have a lot of pride” Hair said of Patton’s legacy. “We have the best servicemen and women and civilians in the Third Army than we’ve ever had and if we have to go to war they’ll have no problem executing the war and they’ll do it just as good as the men in the Greatest Generation during World War II.”
After the briefing, Hair answered questions about Patton’s life. Among those present were two WWII veterans who served in the Third Army under the larger-than-life general. One shared a prayer card Patton had ordered 250,00 copies of to be distributed to troops.
Dane Coffman of Leesville, a living historian who bears a striking resemblance to World War I-era General John Pershing, also attended.
“We were the first to prepare individual soldiers and units that were being activated to go to war and so ‘Third Always First’ was supposed to signal to us always being in a constant state of readiness or providing the Army a constant state of readiness,” Third Army public affairs chief Col. Angela Funaro said.
“Anyone who has stepped foot in South Asia or the Middle East, they have been part of our century,” she said. “That’s kind of our campaign for ARCENTennial as well as U.S. ARCENTury.”
Patton’s grandson George Patton Waters also attended the event. Waters now lives in Mount Pleasant.
“It was his discipline,” Waters said. “The legacy was the discipline and leadership and confidence. I think that the Third Army, talking with these people who are Third Army up here, the younger people, it’s that confidence that General Patton brought to the Third Army.”
Despite his rugged exterior, Patton loved his dogs and horses. He issued the order to save the Lipizzan horses from the world-famous Spanish Riding School, which were moved from Vienna to a farm in Czechoslovakia to protect them from the war. Adolph Hitler planned to give one of the horses to Japanese Emperor Hirohito as a gift.
“He had information that the Russians were going to get the Lipizzan horses. They were one of a kind. If the stallions were lost the breed would be lost and they were the premier horses in Europe. So one of his cavalry commanders located them, let him know where it was. He gave them permission to go in behind the lines and fight through the Germans who actually had the Lipizzaner horses and wanted to see them go to us rather than the Russians. They felt like the Russians would probably eat them,” Hair said. “So he made sure they were rescued. Then after the war, while they were still waiting to hear if they were going to go to Japan or not, all the men got to go by division or by group and watch the Lipizzaner horses so they became quite a show.”
Today, the Lipizzaner horses still train and perform their traditional show at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
“Even today when you go to see those magnificent horses they will mention Third Army, in fact,” Hair said. “Patton didn’t want to see the bloodline lost.”