George Patton "Pat" Waters' earliest memory of his grandfather goes something like this. Young Pat was playing in the yard when a car rolled up, and out stepped Gen. George S. Patton. The boy was not yet 5 years old. "He was wearing a helmet, boots, pistol, and he was smoking a cigar. His first words to me were, 'Who the hell are you?'"
It was November, and the child was pretty sure this was not Santa Claus coming a little early. He did come bearing gifts, Waters said: a Mauser, two pistols and a German helmet. "All I could think of was so much for Christmas."
Waters and Omar Bradley "Brad" Beukema discussed what it was like growing up the grandsons of famous generals as the International Conference on World War II wrapped up Saturday evening in New Orleans. The event was produced by the National World War II Museum.
Beukema explained that his famous grandfather also had "a closet full of guns and souvenirs he brought back from the war. We got to play with them in the yard." Both grandsons spoke of the unique and effective synergy between Patton, the blood-and-guts warrior, and Bradley, the even-tempered tactician, during World War II. "We heard nothing but nice things about Gen. Bradley," Waters said, acknowledging that the relationship was not as rosy between Patton and Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. "Gen. Eisenhower was a politician. Gen. Patton was a warrior."
Both grandsons said the blockbuster movie "Patton" was an accurate portrayal of the generals, one that brought perspective to their place in history. "The war itself made so much more sense, seeing it," Beukema said.
Waters responded to questions from the crowd about Patton's tough nature, including one about the time the general slapped a shell-shocked soldier. He said Gen. Patton was probably thinking about the 400,000 other men under his command who were scared and combat-weary at the time when he struck the soldier. "I think that he didn't do it out of anger toward the soldier. He was thinking of the other men. It wasn't the right thing to do, but he did it."
"That aspect of Gen. Patton was problematic to my grandfather," Beukema said, adding that the two generals had deep respect for one another's military prowess. Respect for others, Beukema explained, was a trademark characteristic of Gen. Bradley. "He's been described as a populist, and I think that's fair."
As for Gen. Patton, young Pat remembers that he believed his grandfather sometimes spoke a different language. "He said words I had never heard," Waters said. "I asked my mother about these words. What were they? She told me they were for motivating people."
Beukema has worked in hospice care for most of his adult life and recently returned to direct pastoral care as a chaplain at Montgomery Hospice in Maryland. Waters served five years in the U.S. Navy, reaching the rank of lieutenant.