Patton and World War I’s Unknown Soldier
By Kevin M. Hymel
via the Arlington National Cemetery web site blog
In 1921, Major George S. Patton Jr. held an important role during ceremonies for America’s World War I Unknown Soldier. The man who would become an iconic general, known for commanding victorious armies in World War II, was then the commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment’s 3rd Cavalry Squadron. On November 9, 1921, Patton helped escort the Unknown Soldier’s casket from the USS Olympia to the U.S. Capitol, where the Unknown would lie in state for two days. On November 11, the day of the Unknown’s burial ceremony, he marched in the procession that escorted the casket to Arlington National Cemetery.
Maj. Patton, a war veteran himself, had seen many Americans fall in the trenches and battlefields of World War I. Commanding the 304th Tank Brigade, he had led his tanks in two major actions. During the Battle of St. Mihiel on September 12, 1918, he walked across a bridge his tankers worried was mined; rode atop a tank until enemy machine gun fire forced him to jump off; and stood upright, talking to Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, during an enemy artillery barrage. Two weeks later, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Patton helped shovel a tank out of mud, exposing himself to enemy fire. He ended his war by charging a German machine gun, only to be wounded by a bullet in the lower abdomen.
After returning from Europe, Patton commanded his tank brigade at Fort Meade, Maryland, before transferring to Fort Myer, in Arlington, to command the 3rd Cavalry Squadron. Patton, his wife Beatrice and their two daughters lived in Quarters No. 6 on Officers Row, a large Victorian brick home overlooking the Potomac River and the city.
On November 9, 1921, Patton’s squad was among the units that greeted the USS Olympia—the storied battleship that transported the Unknown Soldier from France to the United States—upon its arrival at the Washington Navy Yard. When the cruiser docked, Patton’s cavalrymen lined up, facing the ship. As the casket was carried down the gangplank, the men saluted. They then helped escort the Unknown Soldier’s caisson to the U.S. Capitol. Once at the Capitol, the cavalrymen dismounted and again formed a line. Patton’s squad faced another squad, forming a cordon at the foot of the Capitol’s east steps, as the casket was carried between them and into the rotunda.
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