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A Soldier and PTSD

      George S. Patton, Jr. was a World War II General, known for his leadership and hard work. His website attributes quotes to him that describe the kind of man that made him a General. “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”. 

     He considered himself a soldier. Such quotes as “In case of doubt, attack”, and “May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t”; is the kind of thinking that even appeals to us today.

     It is undisputed that he was a driven man. However, his toughness on soldiers, became his downfall. The event was known as the “Patton slap”, but was basically the “slap heard round the world”. His Wikipedia description provides a pretty good account of what happened that effected his career and how he was viewed as a soldier. The entry is called the “slapping incident”.

     In the summer of 1943,  General  Patton’s Seventh Army  was engaged in a campaign to seize control of Sicily from the Germans and Italians. History records that the heat and the pace of the “Sicily campaign”, so frustrated Patton that he wrote that he was eager “to get out of this infernal island.”

     On the afternoon of August 2,  a 27-year-old Private,  named Charles H. Kuhl, checked into the aid station, with a diagnosis of “exhaustion”. According to the medical records still available today, it was the 3rd time that Private Kuhl had been admitted.

     On August 3, 1943, Kuhl’s medical note indicates that he was in a “Psychoneurosis anxiety state- moderate to severe”.  His medical record indicates that he was given “sodium mytal” , (sodium amytal). It is a drug that is used to combat insomnia. Recipients typically become very drowsy and it lasts into the next day.

     While Kuhl was receiving this medical attention, General Patton was making his rounds among the wounded soldiers; He came across Kuhl,  and Patton saw a 1st Division infantry man,  who showed no apparent wound or injury.

     In a 1970 interview, after the movie “Patton” was released, the “South Bend Tribune” reported that Kuhl remembered that when Patton entered the hospital tent, “all the soldiers jumped to attention except me. I was suffering from battle fatigue and just didn’t know what to do.”

     Patton went around to each soldier and individually asked about their specific injuries. Patton questioned Kuhl about why he had not stood and saluted. Kuhl told The Tribune, “I told him my nerves were shot and, of course, I didn’t feel like getting up to salute him.”

     The above attachment records that the furious General began swearing at Kuhl; calling him a coward and ordering him to leave the hospital tent that was occupied by brave soldiers who had “real” battle wounds.

     The frightened Kuhl did not move, which only further enraged Patton. Patton then, according to an eyewitness, slapped Kuhl’s face with a glove, raised him to his feet by the scruff of his neck and forced him out of the medical tent, with a final “kick in the rear.” Patton ordered the private to return to his unit and told the doctors not to re-admit him to the hospital.

     Kuhl fled from the tent and hid until Patton left the hospital. The soldier was then picked up by Corpsmen and returned to the ward tent and was admitted for acute anxiety, chronic diarrhea, malaria and a  fever with a 102.2 temperature. He suffered with malarial parasites and diarrhea for over a month.   Two days later, Patton ordered that Seventh Army soldiers alleging shell shock, not be admitted to hospitals; and that those who refused to fight would be court-martialed “for cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

       Word of the slap, did not make it back to the United States for a few months. History indicates that this allegedly was not the only soldier that Patton had slapped.

     Realizing that striking an enlisted man was a court-martial offense, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Patton’s senior commander, needed to both punish Patton and prevent the incident from causing a stir back home. Eisenhower was faced with a dilemma. He didn’t want to lose a general,  so crucial to the war effort. At one point, radio reports claimed that Eisenhower was attempting to cover it up.

      Eisenhower then knew that he had to take public actions. As part of Patton’s punishment, Eisenhower formally censured him, saying that he did not condone brutality or uncontrollable temper in front of the enlisted men. Eisenhower ordered Patton to publicly apologize for his actions.

     On Aug. 22, Patton summoned all of the Seventh Army to Palermo to publicly apologize for his actions. Beyond his public apology, Patton also personally apologized to Kuhl. He told the private that his slapping and verbal abuse were intended to motivate Kuhl to fight. General Patton asked Kuhl to shake his hand in forgiveness. An observer noted that Kuhl grinned enthusiastically and shook Patton’s hand.

     The slapping incident nearly ended Patton’s military career. He remained in the European war theater, but was never given a major command. Patton died in December 1945 from injuries suffered in an automobile accident in Luxembourg. Charles Kuhl returned to the Michiana area and worked at Bendix. He died in Mishawaka on Jan. 31, 1971, and is buried in Mishawaka’s Fairview Cemetery.

     Next Monday, we will honor and remember our war heroes. One book “Shell Shock to PTSD“, considers many of the injuries that soldiers suffered, from 1900 to 2005; Many of those injuries were like those that were suffered by Private Kuhl, that went undiagnosed during and after all the wars during that period.

     Trauma and psychiatric injuries were undiagnosed, when war Veterans returned back to society. Brain injury and long lasting effects were not treated because these injuries couldn’t be seen.

     It is estimated that 30 out of 100 Vietnam veterans, suffered the effects of PTSD, At least 15 out of every 100 that returned from Iraq, were dealing with symptoms of PTSD.

     In WWII, they were just treating soldiers, like Private Kuhl, with something to help them sleep. Then, they were sent right back out to the battlefield, which is why someone like Kuhl, returned to the battlefield again and again.   The indication is that, perhaps, even General Patton was suffering from symptoms of exhaustion that could have been PTSD. 

       What we now recognize as PTSD, used to be called or simply known as “shell shcok”, “combat fatigue” or “war neurosis”. We now know that these conditions  need continuing and long term care.

     In facing budget issues and what kind of medical care that our military and our Veterans deserve; politicians and the public are now aware of the need. It’s just a question of what can and will be done.  As a nation, what are we really going to do for those that we honor on Memorial Day.


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