Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpCount among Arlington’s notable yesteryear residents “Old Blood and Guts.”

Gen. George S. Patton Jr. (1885-1945), famous for leadership in two World Wars, ivory-handled pistols and slapping scared soldiers in Sicily, was colorfully portrayed by George C. Scott in the 1970 movie.

Stateside, Patton’s life’s drama unfolded at homes in and around Fort Myer, the sites of which are traceable.

The respected but resented officer was stationed four times in the Washington area, I was told by Kim Holien, retired as historian at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Patton and his wife Bea “were very socially oriented, because they were upper-crust and because that was a way to keep his name and face in front of the powers that be in the slow promotion system between the wars.”

Patton was first stationed in Arlington in 1911, when the ace horseman joined the 15th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Myer. He was already mingling with superior officers, lawmakers and Cabinet members, wrote Patton biographer Stanley Hirshon. In summer 1912, the 26-year-old VMI and West Point grad traveled to Stockholm to compete in the Olympics pentathlon.

Patton developed “the last official saber for the Army,” Holien says.

Following action in World War I in France, he returned to Fort Myer as a major and squadron commander and helped prepare the 1921 dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

After finishing at the Army War College in June 1932, Patton and his wife rented a two-year-old house in Rosslyn. It boasted “a gas stove and furnace, five bedrooms, four rooms for servants, two guest rooms, and a flower garden,” Hirshon reports.

One letter from Patton’s wife, copied to me by the Huntington Library in California, contained, rather than a street address, “RFD #1 Roslyn or Ft. Myer if you trust Georgie to bring it home.”

From this house Patton learned of the “bonus marchers” near the Capitol – 17,000 impoverished World War I vets demanding back pay. Patton saw the marchers as “revolutionists” and “a mob” and helped put them down (one protester being a soldier who once saved Patton’s life).

In 1935, the Pattons bought land from Fort Myer and built a home at North 12th and Nash streets. It was later described as an elegant two-story fieldstone, with dark wood paneling, crown molding, hardwood floors and a spacious kitchen.

The Pattons lived there six years, and after Pearl Harbor it was sold to the Devers family for their fledgling Congressional School (originally a farm on Carlin Springs Road). In 1960 a fire forced Congressional to move to today’s location on Sleepy Hollow Road. The Patton home was razed in 1963.
Patton back in 1938 had been promoted to commander at Fort Myer. He was one of the last to live in Quarters 8 on Grant Ave., Holien said, before Gen. George Marshall assembled senior officers at other nearby quarters for security and communication.

That was after Patton in 1935 designed the Old Post Chapel “top to bottom, doing extensive research on a tight budget,” Holien said. Yet a chapel plaque mounted in 1955 credits Patton’s former boss, Gen. Kenyon Joyce.

That, historian Holien assured me, was due to the famous falling out between Patton and Dwight Eisenhower in Europe before Patton’s death in a car accident. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and the Joyces dedicated the plaque – with Patton’s role nearly forgotten.

* * *

The late Arlington librarian-historian Sara Collins shared with me an intriguing Arlington story she was never able to verify.

Allegedly, the reason Arlington separated from Alexandria County in 1920 was a misunderstanding by the Army. A military parade near our courthouse to celebrate the end of World War I was supposed to include a flyover from aircraft at Fort Myer. But no planes appeared.

When questioned, the Army said its pilots flew over the City of Alexandria but found no parade. That, the tale goes, was the last straw for Arlingtonians, and the General Assembly acted that year to make our county master of its own destiny.

CORRECTION: Added “West Point grad” to Patton’s bio information.