Tuesday, February 24, 2015

General Patton Memorial Museum

Offbeat Museums

All that's left of the World War II Desert Training Center in California's Mojave Desert is the ruin of the above chapel.  This is where General George Patton trained nearly one million men for combat and survival skills before sending them to North Africa.  He insisted on a minimum of six weeks training.  He lived among these men in primitive conditions and earned their loyalty and respect.  "This is the place God forgot," one of his men said in a documentary we viewed at the museum.
And this is why I have dubbed this post "Offbeat".  It is located in a godforsaken place, off Highway 10 on the Chiriaco Summit.
I confess it is the tank collection on the museum grounds that lured us in.  My travel buddy would love nothing more than to have a cannon in our front yard and a tank in the back!  His knowledge of these war machines would have impressed Old Blood and Guts himself.  Patton was an expert in this new technology and pushed hard for the military to use them.  At the training center, the above frames were fitted on top of jeeps to simulate tanks.
The museum is small and easily covered in an hour or two.  I watched the video first to refresh my memory of his command.  Like most people, all I knew of General Patton was from the 1970 movie starring George C. Scott.  I remember the foul language, the hot-headed temper and the controversy surrounding him.  The film does not cover up these negative aspects, but it does put things into perspective.  The man demanded excellence and because of it, he was one of the most successful commanders in U.S. military history.  His strategy was "Attack.  Attack.  And Attack."  He wanted to get this war over with and he wanted to win.

He succeeded.  He pushed the Germans out of North Africa and then sent them fleeing as his 3rd Army rolled through Europe.  He ended his career by liberating the men and women from the Buchenwald concentration camp.  One entire room at the museum is devoted to this final undertaking.  There are many photographs and one moving letter in which he writes:  We have lately been liberating slave camps and honestly words are inadequate to express the horror of those situations.

I had hoped the museum would be exclusively about Patton's interesting life like the singular focus of the presidential libraries, but it is a bit of a mishmash.  There's a little of this and a little of that from many different wars and many different military branches.  I have a feeling they have relied on donations and did their best to make it cohesive.  I found the above examples of "trench art" to be one of the more fascinating exhibits.  These pieces of art were created by those artistically-inclined men who found themselves living in the trenches of Europe during World War I.  They were sculpted out of shell casings.  I have never seen anything like this before.  Eerie.  Yet oddly beautiful.

I'm surprised that I keep thinking about this place.  Perhaps it was watching the news on the Summit against Terrorism this week on t.v.  The men came home from World War II and were given parades, speeches and a hero's welcome.  Goals were clear.  Patton and his determination to get this thing done and over with . . . well, it worked.  Wars are different now.  Not clear cut at all.  They drag on forever.  Now our war movies are about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suicide and depression.  What am I doing here?  This is not an uncommon question asked by every one of our soldiers these days.

How would Patton answer?  What would he do to get this thing done and over with?
  Because I'm certain he would.

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