Over the past 6 weeks, I have had the opportunity to listen to many of my father’s lessons and stories, and think about the questions he posed. My next few blogs will replay some of these.
Wisdom: My father viewed the difference between a good leader and a great leader as the ability to know when to make decisions, and when they make them to execute without looking back. As he phrased it, “you will never have all the information you would like to make a decision, unless you’ve waited too long. To know when you have enough, to make a decision and then go with it, is critical of great leaders.”
General George Patton: My father served in General Patton’s artillery division as staff sergeant. Patton assembled a bilingual intelligence unit which provided essential logistic information on the movement of the Germans as the American army progressed into Europe. My father’s mind was challenged to gather vital information to his unit’s advancements and then calculate the angles and positions for artillery fire.
Following D-Day, in August of 1944, the heavy artillery as part of the U.S. Third Army was driving through France. As they were chasing the Germans, and approaching Colmar, Patton asked my father and his team to assess if they had the power and position to blow up a monumental stone bridge that was out of sight. It appeared as if the Germans were heading towards that bridge to cross the Rhine.
After about 20 minutes, Patton came back and looked at my father eye to eye. My father said, “The bridge is at the edge of our range. We have it as accurately positioned, as we will be able to. I think we can hit it.” Patton replied, without hesitation, “give it everything we have and thank you.”
Subsequently, General Eisenhower called it, “One of the most successful missions in modern history .” We cut the Germans off and more than 30,000 did not cross that river.
As my father told the story, he was in awe of Patton’s ability to make the decision at the moment, understand the risks, trust the team completely, bet on it’s success, and own the results – even if it had failed. Patton thanked my father, regardless of the results. My father’s last words were thank you.