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Once Upon a Dog: General Patton and Willie

General George S. Patton Jr., the brilliant but endlessly controversial bad boy of World War II, was once paid a compliment by a British colleague: You would have made a great marshal for Napoleon, had you lived in the 18th century.

Patton replied, But I did, dear boy, I did.

Like his ivory-handled pistols and a creative use of highly descriptive profanity, a belief in reincarnation was part of the Patton mystique.

When the general named his Bull Terrier for William the Conqueror, his officers wondered if he believed the gun-shy pup to have been the fearless warrior-king in another life. Patton, who carefully maintained an aura of eccentric genius, let them wonder.

Soon after World War I, the young tank commander Patton acquired a Bull Terrier as a family pet. He became smitten with the breed and owned many Bullies in his lifetime. Willie was the last of the line. He was beside his master in 1944 as the general’s famous tank corps raced across Europe, liberating huge swaths of Nazi-held territory.

As the Allies closed in on Berlin, Patton boasted, I will personally shoot that [highly descriptive profanity] Hitler, and Willie hopes the little [more of the same] comes back as a fire hydrant!

Patton was the ultimate alpha dog, with an unbridled some say pathological need to dominate. But he was putty in Willie s paws. Old Blood and Guts had G.I. dog tags made for Willie and once hosted a birthday party for his second in command. He indulged his dog s every whim until December of 45, when Patton died from injuries sustained in a freak auto accident in Germany.

The Army shipped Willie to the general s widow and daughters in California. He suffered separation anxiety for some months before easing into retirement.

The dog and doting master were reunited not, as Patton predicted, by reincarnation, but by a different kind of immortality: the movies. Thanks to Patton, the 1970 film biography anchored by George C. Scott s Oscar-winning performance, they will spend eternity winning the war together in cable-TV heaven.

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