El Paso Times
Some of this century's most famous or important U.S. Army generals left their mark on Fort Bliss and the surrounding area - and two actually fought in this region.
Many people know that Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing was one of those who waged battles in the region, because his pursuit of Mexican revolutionary figure Pancho Villa is an oft-told part of the Paso del Norte history. But who's the other general?
Actually, the man wasn't a general at the time but was a young 1st Lt. George Patton, who fought under Pershing in 1916. Almost 30 years later, Patton went on to become one of the most famous U.S. Army generals of World War II when his troops drove the Germans east into their homeland and pursued them until their surrender in May 1945.
Two other important generals who retired to El Paso were General of the Army Omar N. Bradley - the nation's last five-star general - and Gen. James H. Polk, a hell-for-leather armored cavalry officer who was a personal favorite of Patton's.
Regarded as a hero of the de-fense of the Philippines, Wainwright was welcomed by 40,000 cheering El Pasoans in December 1945, when he visited the city two months after receiving the Medal of Honor from President Truman.
Polk made the most recent impact on the post, having spent years here in retirement and dying only six years ago, in February 1992. He left behind his wife, Josephine, and daughter, Jody Schwartz, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Polk's legacy is particularly important to Fort Bliss because of his status as a patriarch of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was transferred to Fort Carson, Colo., from Fort Bliss just three years ago.
Polk commanded the unit in World War II when it was the 3rd Cavalry Group. Patton personally pinned the Silver Star Medal on Polk for gallantry in action after Polk spearheaded the U.S. push into Germany. Patton's widow later sent Polk a pair of Patton's own star insignia when Polk got promoted.
Bradley graced El Paso with his presence in retirement from 1977 until his death in April 1981, when he had a heart attack in New York City at age 88.
His real introduction to Fort Bliss had been his review of the troops at Noel Field in June 1948 - 50 years ago - part of the festivities associated with the post's centennial year celebrations.
El Pasoan Courtney M. Rittgers, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who was decorated for combat infantry action, served as one of Bradley's trusted aides.
"It was a great honor and a memorable experience," Rittgers said recently, although he said that Bradley actually had been to El Paso before 1948.
"He stayed here on his honeymoon with his first wife, Mary, at what's now the Paso del Norte hotel," said Rittgers, who in an interview a year after Bradley's death called the general possibly "the greatest commander the armed forces ever produced."
Pershing, who amassed thousands of soldiers in El Paso and along the border for the 1916 punitive expedition into Mexico, almost retired to El Paso but apparently felt he was was too popular to have the privacy in re-tirement that he would have liked. So he went to Arizona.
Pershing had gone on to command the U.S. expeditionary forces in France in World War I, but returned to El Paso in 1920 to bid the city farewell before going to San Antonio. "I'll be back," he told the throng, and according to news accounts, he kept his promise. Scarcely a year passed that Pershing didn't return to El Paso for a visit. He retired from active duty in 1924, died in 1948 and is also buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Patton's service under Pershing includes some of Patton's least-known exploits, since his World War II service completely overshadowed his Mexican expedition experience and World War I service. But in 1915, Patton got into a battle with troops guarding the headquarters of Mexican Gen. Julio Cardenas, a member of Villa's staff. It was in the Lake Itascate area near the little village, Las Cienegas.
When the shooting was over, Patton had killed Cardenas and another Mexican. He took the general's heavy, silver spurs, which soon graced the walls of the Patton house at Fort Bliss.
A few years before Pershing's death, Patton went to Washington to visit the ailing old general who Patton had served nearly 30 years earlier at Fort Bliss. Patton was getting ready to head for land action in North Africa.
As the story goes, Patton knelt before Pershing to get the general's blessing, then stood and saluted his old mentor. Ironically, Patton preceded Pershing in death by three years. Patton died in an accident in Germany just before Christmas 1945, seven months after the German surrender.
Unlike the other three famous generals, Patton remained with the men he had led, many just teen-agers who never got a chance to grow old, but died around Christmas of 1944 in the Battle of the Bulge.
His grave is in a famous cemetery in Luxembourg, where the crosses of U.S. soldiers extend almost as far as the eye can see.