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The End Of The Ride: General Patton’s Fatal Accident

Young Union County Private Was The General’s Chauffeur
Editor’s Note: Denver Fugate wrote the following article 20 years ago in December 1995 for Armor Magazine, Fort Knox, Kentucky. Mr. Fugate, at that time, had the pleasure of inter- viewing Horace L. Woodring, a former Kentuckian from Union County, who was the chauffeur for General Patton.
By Denver Fugate – 1995

         It was a cold morning that second Sunday in December 1945 when Horace L. Woodring was roused from his quarters at 15th
Army Headquarters at Bad Nauheim, Germany, not knowing that day his name would be etched in history.
         Woodring, a 19-year-old private first class, from Union County, Kentucky, was the chauffer for General George S. Patton. The general had decided to go pheasant hunting in the vicinity of Mannheim on his last day in Germany.
         The events that followed would make world headlines. The New York Times reported that Patton was seri- ously injured when his limousine hit an Army truck. With him was General Hobart Gay, his long-time chief of staff. General Gay and PFC Woodring were shaken up but not injured.

         The morning of December 9, 1945, is one that “Woody” Woodring remem- bers well. In interviews with this writ- er, Woodring related his often-told ac- count of the accident: “I was called out of bed and instructed to prepare the limousine for a hunting trip. Sergeant Joseph Spruce, with the guns and hunting dog, started out ahead of us in Woodring said, “The General wanted to check out a castle. He was leaving the next day to go home, so he wanted to make sure he saw this particular castle.” In his diary, General Gay identified the castle as the Roman ruins located in Saalburg, near Bad Homburg. Woodring continued, “The General looked the castle over, and when he returned to the car, he got in the front seat with me, where the heater was, to dry his boots, which were wet from tramping around the snow-covered ruins. We stopped at the checkpoint north of Mannheim, where Sergeant Spruce was waiting. The dog was about to freeze, so it was put in the car with us. The General climbed out of the front seat into the back seat. “The hunting party continued on Route 38 toward Mannheim, through Kaefertal, passing a Polish displaced persons camp where Benjamin Franklin Village is now located. When we came to a railroad crossing, Sergeant Spruce got through, but the train caught us.
         “After the train passed, there was no one in front of us or behind us; the only vehicle in sight was an Army truck moving in my direction.
         “At that point, General Patton remarked, ‘Look at all the derelict vehicles,’ which were parked along both sides of the road. ‘How awful war is; think of the waste.’”
         Woodring was still eyeing the oncoming truck. “Approximately a quarter-mile from the railroad crossing, the truck, driven by Technical Sergeant Robert L. Thompson, suddenly turned left into the driveway entrance of a quartermaster unit.”
         The two vehicles collided at nearly a 90-degree angle. The right bumper of the big truck struck the right side of General Patton’s Cadillac, smashing the radiator and the right fender. None of the windows were broken.
                  After a time, the Cadillac was repaired and returned to service. Today, it is on display at the Patton Museum at Fort Knox. The truck was not damaged. Gay, Woodring, and Thompson were shaken up a bit, but were otherwise unhurt. General Patton, riding on the right side of the front portion of the back seat, was thrown forward
forcefully and then hurled back. His face had smashed into the upper part of the partition that separated the driver from the rear compartment. The impact broke his nose and his neck and split his scalp open. He was bleeding from wounds of the forehead and scalp.
         “The first thing I saw,” Woodring remembers, “was the skull through the open wound, and he was lying over General Gay.”
         “His head was to the left and I was practically supporting him on my right shoulder in a semi-upright position,” Gay remembers…………

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