Perfect Horse

Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis by Elizabeth Letts is a charismatic book. Below is an excerpt from the book about General George S. Patton:

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The door to the black car swung open, and stepped General George S. Patton, now secretly in England, where he was participating in a mock mission to confuse the Germans about the Allied invasion. Resplendent in high brown cavalry field boots and a gleaming helmet, he, walked briskly down the hillside toward the ten-man guard of honor, who stood at attention. Patton passed slowly in front of them, looking each soldier up and down and then peering into each man’s face. From there, he walked straight up onto the platform.

The corps chaplain stepped up to the microphone to give the invocation, asking for divine guidance so that the Third Army might help speed victory to an enslaved Europe. Next to speak was Lieutenant General William H. Simpson. “We are here,” he said, “to listen to the words of a great man, a man who will lead you all into whatever you may face with heroism, ability, and foresight. A man who has proven himself amid shot and shell.” Most of these soldiers were awestruck, having never seen the famous commander in person, but this was not the case for Patton’s fellow cavalryman Hank Reed, who had been acquainted with him for many years. Since the invasion of North Africa and Sicily, in which the general had played a starring role, George Patton’s name had been familiar in every American household. But Reed had known him as a rough-and-tumble polo player possessed of a foul mouth and a fierce competitive spirit.

Though Patton was eighteen years Reed’s senior, the two officers shared a strong tie. Each had been a member of the prestigious War Department polo team, Patton in the 1920s and Reed in the ’30, Patton’s ferocity on the polo field was an army legend. He seemed to go to war every time he galloped out onto the pitch. Even among tough competitors, the general was renowned for the particular bellicosity with which he approached the game. Once, while playing at the Myopia Hunt in Massachussetts, he was hit so badly in the head with a mallet that blood started streaming down his forehead. Patton wrapped a bandage around his head, shoved his helmet back on top of it, and continued to play. Another time, he fell so hard that he sustained a severe concussion. His daughter, Ruth Ellen, who was watching the match, knew something was terribly wrong because it was the first time she had ever seen him let go of the reins when he fell off a horse.

Patton, like many others in the army, had believed that in peacetime, when men had no chance to experience combat firsthand, the horseback battles played on the polo field were the best way to train a man for combat. If Patton’s theory was right, then the ace polo player Hank Reed was among the best-prepared soldiers at Camp Bewdley that day. None of the 2nd Cavalry men had seen real combat before, including their leader, Colonel Reed.

The general approached the microphone and looked out over the great mass of soldiers standing at attention on the hillside. “Be seated,” he said. His amplified voice echoed out across the hillside, high and clear. His tone was firm and commanding. In an undulating wave, the men sank back down onto the grass.

“Men, this stuff we hear about America wanting to stay out of the war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit! Americans love to fight-traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win-all the time….”

Up on the hillside, the men of the 2nd Cavalry listened intently. All of them knew that General Patton was the one who got called in when the going got tough. Indeed, the general then strictly admonished the crowd that his presence in Bewdley was to be kept top-secret. Nobody knew exactly what was coming next; they just knew that they would be part of something bigger than all of them.

From Patton’s vantage point up on the platform, the assembled men of the Third Army looked like an enormous sea of humanity gathered with a common purpose. Despite the uniforms that made them resemble one another, every man sitting there that day had his own life story, his own pathway that had brought him to that place. Born in 19I5, blue-eyed Jim Pitman was one such soldier. He had the face of a sprite, all upturned angles, quick to smile, his smooth skin radiating youth. Hank Reed had had twenty years to prepare for this moment; Jim Pitman had just four. Graduating from West Point in 1940, he joined an army gearing up for war and had been swept right into the heart of it.

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