- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
In the spirit of this week’s news and its theme of sex and generals, I couldn’t help but recall a detail from war-dog history pertaining to one of America’s most famous general’s dogs. General George S. Patton known for his bullish temperament was a great lover of dogs, especially one — a bull terrier named for William the Conqueror, Willie as he was called.
Willie had a certain saucy disposition one that, as Mark Derr writes in his wonderful book, A Dog’s History of America, earned the little dog rather notorious reputation among Patton’s troops in the Third Army:
Known for his randiness, Willie wore bells, so people would know when he was around and take extra care.”
Patton acquired the dog when he was just a little puppy and proudly wrote in his diary that, “My bull pup … took to me like a duck to water.” Patton fawned over the Willie, taking him everywhere he went and was said to have thrown Willie a birthday party. Patton also wrote that “Willie is crazy about me and almost has a fit when I come back to camp. He snores too and is company at night.”
Indeed others noticed the closeness between the general and dog. Political and war cartoonist Bill Mauldin who, at one point Patton reportedly threatened to have jailed, remarked on encountering the formidable pair after coming face-to-face with the general and Willie:
Beside him, lying in a big chair was Willie, the bull terrier. If ever dog was suited to master this one was. Willie had his beloved boss’s expression and lacked only the ribbons and stars. I stood in that door staring into the four meanest eyes I’d ever seen.”
When Patton died Willie was sent home to live with the family. This heartrending photo was taken just before the dog left for the good the life he shared with his general.
Remarkably, Willie has a Facebook page –– unadorned though it may be with its one follower. In more tangible memorandum commemorating this relationship, there is a large bronze statue of Patton and his dog in California.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.