Frank Sisson never personally met with General George S. Patton, albeit seeing him fleetingly in his car, twice. Nevertheless, the legendary American warlord left a lifelong impression on the boy from Weleetka, Oklahoma who came to see him as a father figure. “He had been an invisible force that guided me through the days of danger and struggle. General Patton had embodied what our ideals of Americanism were”, writes the author of I Marched With Patton: A Firsthand Account of World War II Alongside One of the U.S. Army’s Greatest Generals.
This touching memoir recounts the harrowing days of war of an ordinary soldier who demonstrated extraordinary values of loyalty, generosity and benevolence. After his father died from appendicitis when he was fifteen and a half, Frank left home to work as a welder in a shipyard in Oakland California in order to support his family. Upon turning 18 years old, he enlisted in the US Army in 1943 and was destined to be part of George S. Patton’s Third Army in the 667th Field Artillery. “From everything I heard, this was the general to serve under.” He would not be disappointed.
On Christmas Day 1944, he crossed the Channel with his comrades and fought in the hedgerows of Normandy before taking part in the Battle of the Bulge and heading to Germany. He would end his military service as a military police inspector in Berlin in the spring of 1946. One of the most poignant episodes of the book is the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. “We were walking through hell itself”, says Sisson, who was assigned to help prisoners eating “[…] slowly and in small amount”, because the lack of nutrition for an extended period could damage their digestive system and even cause death.
Throughout his service, Frank Sisson took inspiration from his role model. “Patton was a swaggering, pistol-packing, profane man who was also deeply religious. While he could scream and shout, underneath he had a kind heart.” The young soldier’s own kind heart would be revealed on more than one occasion.
Prior to reaching Bavaria, he and his comrades had entered Cologne. “Here and there we could see people peering out from behind empty door frames, clearly hungry. Many survivors were struggling to find food—and to just stay alive.” Sisson remembered having spotted rabbits on the way there. With another soldier, he retraced his steps to hunt them and bring back food for the famished citizens. In his mind, “[…] the people on the other side were just as human as we were.”
Afterwards, after having reached Germany’s capital, he observed young Berliners who were in a very distressing condition. He “[…] went back up the war-torn street and ordered $40 worth of hamburgers. (That’s about the equivalent of $573 in 2020)” and distributed the feast to those kids who “[…] wolfed down those burgers like they hadn’t eaten in months.”
The same happened a few weeks later, when Frank enjoyed a Christmas feast in the Army’s dining hall. “I was stunned to see children standing in the snowbanks peering back at me”, writes the author. “The smell of our dinner had drawn them there. Here I was living like royalty, and those hungry-eyed children standing in the cold would have been satisfied with a crust of bread. […] I hurried to the PX (post exchange) and asked the cook to fix as many hamburgers as he could stuff into two large paper sacks. […] I simply couldn’t let those little kids stand out there with nothing.”
While he could have ignored the plight of those youngsters and return to a well-deserved feast, Frank Sisson showed compassion. He did not let war, violence, destruction and hatred get the best of his humanity.
Throughout the war, the author found solace and support on a page he had cut from a Bible containing Psalm 91, whose last line reads: “I choose the God above all gods to shelter me.” As an epitaph for the life of this impressively altruistic man, we could also borrow the following quote from the Talmud: “Man’s thoughts and ways shall always be in contact and sympathy with his fellow men.”
Frank Sisson is also defined by his unwavering loyalty towards his mentor General Patton, his friends and his sweetheart, remaining true to her throughout the long season of war. She would end up breaking his heart, but the backbone of his character would remain intact.
Unquestionably, Sergeant Sisson embodied those benevolent values which characterized America and its soldiers throughout history. In a much more modest way, I myself witnessed the positive psychological impact of a U.S. Army convoy on the morale of the locals while traveling to Poland through the Czech Republic back in 2015, at the height of a tense geopolitical climate between Russia and the West.
But, to me, the most touching part of the book comes right at the end. While doing genealogy many years after the war, the author’s daughter discovered that his ancestors, on his mother’s side, were Jewish and that they “[…] had lived in the vicinity of the Dachau concentration camp.” The very same nefarious place where Frank had helped feed the liberated prisoners.
On this day where we commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this book is an excellent testimony of those inspiring values that will always prevail against evil.
For anyone interested in reading about World War II, General Patton as a source of inspiration or simply if you have faith in humankind, Frank Sisson’s story is a must.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the exceptional Nick Amphlett of HarperCollins for generously providing me with a copy of this book.
Frank Sisson (with Robert L. Wise), I Marched With Patton: A Firsthand Account of World War II Alongside One of the U.S. Army’s Greatest Generals, New York, William Morrow, 2020, 304 pages.