George Patton walked the halls of U.S. Army Central in Sumter on Wednesday.
Not the actual Gen. George S. Patton Jr., the one who is considered one of the U.S. Army's and the world's greatest commanding generals, the one who led the victory in …
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Not the actual Gen. George S. Patton Jr., the one who is considered one of the U.S. Army's and the world's greatest commanding generals, the one who led the victory in pushing back the Nazis from France all the way to Austria in World War II. But a professional living historian re-enacting him was, and so was his actual grandson.
On Nov. 7, 1918, Third Army was activated in Chaumont, France, five days before World War I came to a close. Today, the lineage and honors of Third Army remain established in ARCENT. Patton's Own held a 100th birthday celebration on Wednesday at its headquarters that is on Shaw Air Force Base.
"When I was put in charge of the centennial campaign after coming here to headquarters, I thought, 'What is the common thread between our past to today?'" said Col. Angela Funaro, chief of public affairs for ARCENT. "And with our lineage and our motto, although we were the Third Army, we were the first to prepare individual soldiers and units that were being activated and going into war. And 'Third, Always First' was supposed to signal to us always being in a constant state of readiness for the Army."
Third Army trained hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the Louisiana Maneuvers as World War II began. Since 9/11, USARCENT has led and sustained the fight during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and is present in an area of responsibility that spans 20 countries. A common thread between past and present.
Part of the centennial celebration of Third Army/ARCENT has been to refurbish the headquarters. Its halls now feature historical artifacts, including uniforms, literature, weapons, patches and more, that guests to Wednesday's event toured.
A major component of the day was the addition of Patton and His Third Army Living Historians, a group that re-enacts Patton, his army and his time to educate the public and give tribute to veterans.
"This is what would have appeared in 1944 and 1945, in the winter of 1944 before the Battle of the Bulge. We do a scenario skit, and all of this was actually there and was being said at headquarters before the Battle of the Bulge," said Denny G. Hair, who donned a full Patton uniform and character and could spout out endless facts and events about Patton and his Third Army.
The skit featured Patton and his other military allies realizing the Germans' imminent last major offensive of the war. The decision would eventually take Third Army through Europe to effectively end Hitler's ability to fight. He led Third Army soldiers on eight major campaigns across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria before returning to the U.S., setting up headquarters at Fort McPherson, Georgia, and assuming a training role similar to its initial pre-World War II mission.
"What we do as historians is to honor our veterans, and we point them, the Greatest Generation, to our soldiers today," Hair said. "This is Third Army today ... It's not as big as it once was, but we're not at war. And let's hope we don't ever have to go to war again. The idea is Third is always first. If they go to war, they will be there, and we will vanquish the enemy if need be."
Combat when needed, training in the meantime. A common thread between past and present.
As Hair stood in front of the audience full of soldiers, dignitaries and community members, George Patton Waters watched him become his actual grandfather.
"It's just emotional. It's wonderful to see the memories of Gen. Patton, but what's really wonderful is to see the new soldiers coming up and the belief of Gen. Patton and the commitment to the Army. It's alive right here on this property," said Waters, a Mount Pleasant resident and the son of Patton's daughter and first-born.
Waters was a U.S. Navy officer for five years and said he never got to know his grandfather but that Hair's impression was great.
"I saw him when I was 5 years old, so my recollections are really more of a mean guy that just was there," Waters said. "He was only there with us 15 days. I've seen Denny before, and he's good."
Waters said the history and the education Hair and his group give are invaluable.
"It's warming to me to realize that [Patton's] legacy goes on. That's the big thing we got to remember. Their legacy can't be forgotten, and our schools don't want to teach a lot of this," he said. "There was a sacrifice made, and there's still a sacrifice being made. The 3,000 people here, they're making it every day."
A common thread.
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