April 4, 1965
Blinded in his right eye in a 1922 polo match at Ft. Bliss, Lt. Gen Hobart R. Gay (ret) bluffed Army physicians for 33 years to become one of America’s outstanding World War II and Korean Conflict generals.
The eye appears normal and its movements are perfectly coordinated with his good left eye. Retired and residing at 4128 O”Keefe Ave., the general is a trim robust man, about 71 years old. He is an avid golfer and prolific reader.
Gen Gay made his place in the annals of military history by serving as the late Gen. George S. Patton Jr’s chief of staff and chief strategist throughout World War II. He was with Gen. Patton when the famed commander was accidentally killed in 1945.
During the Korean Conflict, Gen. Gay commanded the Army’s 1st cavalry Division which pushed the North Koreans to the Yalu River, and took the brunt of the human tide which Red China then sent into the war.
The general served eight years as superintendent of New Mexico Military Institute. Roswell, N. M., after retiring from the Army Aug 1, 1963.
Gen Gay was born May 16 1894, on a farm south of Quincy Ill., where he graduated from high school. He attended Knox College, Galesburg, Ill.
“When World War 1 broke out I was a senior. A group of us decided to enlist in the Army” he said.
Upon completing OCS at Ft. Sheridan, Ill., he was commissioned as a Cavalry lieutenant.
“I had never seen a McClellan saddle, “he said.
He was sent to Hatchita, N. M. for his first assignment to serve with the 12 Cavalry Regiment.
“I stayed there on the border,” he said. Until I got orders to report to Ft Bliss in December, 1917.
“My heart was broken – I did not know what I had done to get shanghaied away from my outfit.”
He reported to Col. Tommy Tompkins of the 7th Cavalry who said to Gay, “You are rather small – do you know why you are here?”
“No sir,” Gay replied, but he soon found out. A former Knox College halfback, he played on the Ft. Bliss football team coached by the late Gen. Bob Neyland who later coached at the University of Tennessee. “I was never much of a football player, but I became a reasonably good polo player,” he said. He remained at Ft. Bliss throughout World War I until 1923 when he was sent to Cavalry School at Ft. Riley Ken., where he stayed until 1929 when he began moving around Ft. Reno, Okla.; Philadelphia; Panama Canal Zone, and Ft. Meyer, Va.
At Ft. Meyer he served under Patton, then commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
In 1940 Patton had gone to Ft. Benning, Ga., and Gay to Washington for more schooling. Patton, commander of the 2nd Armored Division at Ft. Benning, sent telegrams to four officers who had served under him in the 3rd Cavalry at Ft. Meyer, asking them to join him in the 2nd armored command.
“One answered, yes and the other three asked what kind of job – so I (the one) went to Ft. Benning,” Gay said.
The 2nd Armored Division began training near Indio, Calif. In 1942 for action in the pacific – it became the 1st Armored Division. On July 31, Patton and Gay were called to Washington by a Pentagon Official., whose name they forgot and had to spend the day looking for him. He informed them they would make an amphibious landing along the Mediterranean.
“I do not think any of us had ever seen a landing craft in our lives,” Gay declared.
“This was the start of the invasion of Morocco, Nov. 8-11, 1942, by the Western Task Force commanded by Patton – we were fighting the French mostly.”
After the occupation of Morocco and assistance to Field Marshal Montgomery in Tunisia, Patton and Gay returned to Casablanca to plan and command the invasion of Sicily. In January, 1943, the Anfa Conference, attended by the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt and late Prime Minister Winston Churchill, plus Patton, then Col. Gay other U.S, military officials. British Military officials and Gens. Charles De Gaulle and Henri Giraud of the French Forces, was held near Casablanca.
At this conference Churchill argued for the invasion of the “soft underbelly of Europe” the Balkans rather than through France, and to allow the Russians and Germans to fight it out to deplete each other’s men and supplies. The Americans argued against this and made the decision to attack at Normandy Beach.
On Aug. 10, 1943 the invasion of Sicily – a 37 day bitter campaign – began, and Patton’s Western Task Force “became the 7th Army at one minute after midnight,” Gay said.
After Sicily the 7th Army was moved to England where it was redesignated the 3rd Army. The 3rd moved into France after the Normandy invasion and was headquartered at Nancy, France “when the Bulge broke.” On the morning of Dec. 16, 1944 a concentration of Germans just northwest of headquarters had gone on the radio silence. Patton told Gay to draw plans to move their troops to the east and then to the north.
Despite Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower’s overruling them. “Patton’s staff felt and recommended strongly letting the Germans go about 100 miles into France, so the 3rd could go in behind them and kill them all.” Gay recalled. “I think it would have ended the war right there.” Gay declared.
After the Battle of the Bulge the 3rd Army moved rapidly to the east.
In April 1945, while Gen Omar Bradley were visiting the 3rd Army headquarters, near Frankfort, Germany. “Patton asked Eisenhower: why don’t we take Berlin?
Ike replied “we cannot do it” Patton the asked “What the hell is stopping us? I can take it tomorrow.
Eisenhower than retorted “Well then who the hell would want it.” I think history will answered that.” Patton replied.
The 3rd then moved south to the “Redoubt Area- Southern Germany and northern Austria,” and turned east into Czechoslovakia. The 3rd moved back to the Radlotz, Germany, and white Gay was on vacation in the United States, Patton was accused of being pro Nazi- he and is staff were sent to the 15th Army at Badnaugheim, Germany.
In December 1945, when Patton was planning to return to America to resign because of the controversy, “on a Sunday Gen. Paul D. Harkins and I persuaded him (Patton) to go pheasant shooting.”
The three Generals were traveling through the country in a limousine, with a jeep escort driving ahead of them.
“Coming down the road towards us was a 2 ½ ton U.S. Army truck – the truck turned across the road right in front of us and we had a slight crash. Patton went forward hitting his head against the glass partition in the limousine. It broke his neck and he died 10 days later.”
Gay commanded the last Armored Division and one of three brigades of the Constabulary of German (occupation forces) before returning to this country in December, 1947 to command the General Military District of Washington which included “the unenviable job of running the presidential inaugural parade in 1947 for President Harry Truman- I had no authority and no one obeyed me.”
In August 1949 I was ordered to Japan to command the 1st Cavalry Division - where I expected to spend a quite two and one half, or three years, but in July 1950 we were moved to Korea,” he said.
“There I saw the bitterest fighting that I had seen in my entire career!”
His forces were pushed back in the Taegu Perimeter and caught behind the enemy lines after pushing forward again. The 1st Cavalry then “fought a running battle all night, until after noon to reach Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces who had made the Inchon landing near Seoul – more than 100 miles from where we started.
With the first Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division, Gen. Gay took his forces to make a landing on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, after which they took the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang for the first time.
Gen. Gay was ordered home in April, 1951. He served at Ft. Sam Houston, Tex.; Camp Atterburg, Ind.; Ft. MacArthur, Calif.; Ft. Hood, Tex., and the place he took OCS training, Ft Sheridan, Ill. – “The only post I ever served at twice as a private and once as an Army commander.”
Gen Gay married Dec. 15, 1921 the former Alzina Orndorff, a native El Pasoan whom he met while serving at Ft. Bliss. Their daughter Alzina is married to W. D. McNaughton, publisher of the Pekin, Ill. Times and head of the McNaughton newspaper chain. They have four grandchildren. Their son, Air Force Capt. Hobart R. Gay Jr., a West Point graduate, was killed in a 1952 jet crash.
On his Army career – 12 campaigns bringing him dozens of citations from the United States and eight foreign countries – Gay commented, “I think I was very lucky.”
Why? “I never overestimated my own ability.”