On December 21, 1945, following an accident on the Autobahn near Heidelberg, General George S. Patton Jr., Combat Commander of the Third U.S. Army, died as the result of the injuries he sustained.
With all the allied world in mourning, General Patton’ s funeral was held following the decision by Mrs. Patton that her husband should be laid to rest in the cemetery at Hamm, Luxembourg, alongside the men who fought and died in his great Third Army.
The news of the General’ s death came as quite a shock to us as newspaper reports had only recently reported his condition as not serious.
Col. Reed, a close personal friend of the late General, as well as one of his subordinate Combat Commanders, was directed to arrange the burial services to be held in Luxembourg on Dec. 24.
The Second Cavalry Group Commander immediately left for Luxembourg on Dec. 22 after notifying the 2nd Sq. to furnish the color guard and the 42nd Sq. to furnish a mechanized Escort Troop.
Capt. McKaney, Capt. Wickstrom and Lt. Conner were chosen to accompany the 2nd Sq. Detachment and function on Col. Reed’ s funeral Escort Staff.
The 42nd Squadron composite Troop of selected men was headed by 1st Lt. McMahon with 2nd Lt. George, 2nd Lt. Bormaster, and 1st Lt. Kibort as platoon leaders. Major Lambert went along as assistant to Col. Reed.
This motorized detachment made a forced march to cover the 400 snow covered miles to Luxembourg, spending the night of Dec. 22-23 as guests of the French authorities in Saarbrucken.
At Nurnberg on Dec. 22 the 2nd Squadron representatives were joined by composite rifle companies from the 4th Armored Division, the First and Ninth Infantry Divisions, Patton’ s old favorites, and formed an Escort Train which finally departed at 1530. Following the Escort Train at about a two hour interval was General Truscott’ s train and behind it at about the same interval was another train with family and friends.
After harassing sleepy RTO personnel along the route the party finally arrived in Luxembourg City at 1630 on the 23rd.
It seemed that the city was particularly well chosen for the ceremony since it was from here that General Patton launched the counter-attack that broke the Ardennes salient. There were many familiar sites to be seen, and what Soldier who had served in the Third Army could ever forget the Christmas message of 1944 and the electrifying sight of massed B-17′ s and P-47′ s when the weather shone bright and clear a few days later.
At Luxembourg City a terrific job lay before the Escort Staff and the Troops. Col. Reed and the Escort Train arriving at 1630 on Dec. 23 found that no elaborate preparations had been made for the large influx of troops and dignitaries, and constant problems and heartaches continued to present themselves.
Routes had to be reconnoitered, drivers rehearsed, leaders briefed, and all this when there was no written order to refer to.
Col. Reed issued fragmentary orders as each point was decided all through the night, and all the diverse groups were completely oriented by morning. There was a last minute scramble for black crepe for the General’ s horse, which was to be caparisoned and lead to the grave in the old Cavalry tradition.
The 24th dawned a dismal rainy day, quite befitting the sad occasion for which we were all present.
The 42nd Squadron mounted escort lined the square before the railroad station facing the Deuxieme Escadron de Cavalarie Francaise, which had been proffered by Col. De Forceville, the French Liaison Officer at 3rd Army Hq.
When the train bearing General Patton arrived at 910, the men stood at attention before their armored cars and jeeps. As the casket draped with American flag left the station moving between the colors of the Third Army, the Seventh Army, and Second Cavalry, the Troops were brought to present arms and the band played Ruffles and Flourishes and the General’ s March.
When the casket was placed on a special half-track and the colors had mounted, Col. Reed signaled and the men of the Cavalry Escort leaped into their vehicles. A second signal and the funeral cortege moved slowly forward and the Artillery salute of 17 guns started. The cortege moved slowly past the throngs crowding the sidewalks, past the Luxembourg Royal Castle, and out to the cemetery.
Here the Guard of Honor, formed by the 4th Armored, 1st Infantry and 9th Infantry Detachments, as well as Belgian and Luxembourg Army units, presented arms as the General’ s casket was moved to the burial plot. Here beside the massed colors, Mrs. Patton, General McNarney the Theater Commander, and General Truscott, the Third Army Commander, together with the dignitaries of many nations stood with bowed heads in the drifting rain as the short burial service was read. Following the rifle salute and taps, the casket was lowered into the grave.
One of the strongest recollections of the entire ceremony was the heart rending sound of the General’ s March played as a dirge. There were not many dry eyes among the soldiers present for the ceremony.
As a final act, a lone P-47, despite the bad weather, flew over the grave and dipped it’ s wings in final salute to a Great General.