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St. Louis Cardinals: Inglourious Redbirds

“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” – General George S Patton

Imagine you are a manager for a limousine company, and the St. Louis Cardinals are in town. You tell your team of drivers that this means everyone will be a Cardinal’s personal driver for the week.

Now, imagine the fights over getting Yadi or Waino in your car. Imagine what a battle it would be to not have Jonathan Broxton ruining your gas mileage and tire pressure.

This is what a Captain was going through in Europe in 1945 as the allies were finishing the European Theatre.

He had a team of drivers fighting over who got to drive some of the most famous military names in history.

Tired of the arguing, the Captain made a decision: The lowest ranked officer would get to pick first.

That would be Horace L Woodring, only 19 years old. Horace had fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Most people think of battles as one day events. Many are. The Bulge was not. It lasted 5 weeks in the dead middle of the winter in an unpopulated, and thus sparsely sheltered area of France. Woodring suffered frostbite as a result.

Woodring’s frostbite meant he couldn’t serve on the front lines anymore, and was instead sent to driving school, where not long after he got the first pick of what General he was to be the personal driver for.

He could have chosen to be the personal driver for Dwight David Eisenhower.

Instead, his selection was General George Smith Patton.

Patton, I shouldn’t have to tell you about. If I do, let me throw a heavy sigh in your direction with the command that you watch the 1970 movie, Patton. It’s a Hollywood movie, to be sure, so many things are dramatized, but at least you’ll no longer be the biggest idiot on the planet.

Let me sum up Patton for you: Military Genius. Beyond cocky. Maybe the most boisterous personality of any military figure you’ve ever heard of. Absolutely freaking loved war.

And without him, this article might be in German.

Woodring became his personal driver, and had absolute 100% respect for Patton. He enlisted another year just to stay with Patton. Later, Patton became his son’s middle name.

But he also killed him.

On December 9th, 1945, Woodring was driving Patton in his Army Limousine to hunt pheasants. Patton decided that a dog sitting in the open-air jeep of a General in his hunting party looked cold, and instructed Woodring to bring the dog to the car. The dog sat up front. Patton sat in the back.

Later on the drive, with Woodring speeding down the road, an Army Truck misjudged the high speeds they were traveling at, and attempted to turn in front of the limousine, instead clipping them on the side.

It was not a bad accident. No one was hurt, except of course, George S. Patton, who was paralyzed when his vertebra were crushed after his head hit a clock encased in glass in front of his seat. Patton died on the 21st of December, one year to the day after his own planned counter attack in the Battle of the Bulge – the planning which went into motion when Patton said the following code words to his team: Play ball.

An investigation found Woodring guilty of “carelessness” but he was never charged, and personally told by Eisenhower that he was at no fault. The never confirmed, but long rumored conclusion was that the high rate of speed Woodring was driving was a result of Patton himself ordering him to do so. Patton, on his death bed, asked for Woodring to face no punishment, and even asked him to pick up his wife and drive her to the hospital.

But this story isn’t about the guy that did drive Patton; it’s about the guy that didn’t.

Sergeant Murry Dickson was himself a jeep driver that saw combat throughout Europe. Arriving just after D-Day, Dickson was a war hero earning 4 stars as a scout doing top secret reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines, while also fighting at (amongst many other placed) the Battle of the Bulge.

It was there that Dickson made a mad dash into a foxhole to escape enemy fire. Soon, after a nearby explosion, another man piled on top of him. It was General George S. Patton.

Together they escaped the foxhole, and scrambled back to safety. This experience together must have left quite an impression on Patton as he requested that Dickson become his personal driver. Murry refused.

Begging his commanding officer not to let it happen, Dickson said “no way, Patton is nuts, he doesn’t think anyone can kill him.”

After the war, Dickson resumed his previous profession: pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. Drafted just days before the 1943 World Series, he was granted a furlough long enough that he could play. Dickson recorded the final 2 outs in the 5th game of the Cardinals loss.

In 1946 Dickson pitched masterfully for the Cardinals, going 15-6 with a 2.88 ERA. On the final day of the season, the Cardinals found themselves tied with the Brooklyn Dodgers. To break the tie, it was declared that a best 2 out of 3 series would be played – the 1st playoff series ever that was not a World Series. The Cardinals won the 1st game, and Dickson won the 2nd and clinching game to send the Cardinals to the World Series against the Boston Red Sox.

Once again it came down to the final game – game 7 – and Dickson was on the bump. He surrendered 2 hits immediately, followed by a sacrifice fly, and the Cardinals trailed 1-0. The Dickson settled in. He allowed just one more hit and one walk until the 8th inning. In that time the Cardinals had taken a 3-1 lead. They were 6 outs from a World Championship.

The 8th inning started poorly, with Dickson giving up a single and a double.   Manager Eddie Dyer went to the flu-ridden and tired Harry Brecheen in relief. Dickson was furious.

Brecheen got the 1st two outs, but a Dom Dimaggio double tied the game, cost Dickson the win, and put the series in jeopardy.

Then, in the bottom of the 8th, with Dickson angrily out of the stadium, driving his car, and listening to the game on the radio, Enos Slaughter scored on the famous “mad dash” play that secured the Cardinals World Series Victory.

Had Dickson said yes to driving General Patton, it’s entirely possible the Cardinals would have one fewer World Series title. Of course, it’s also highly possible Patton would have lived a much longer life.

Thus, on this Memorial Day, we remember George Patton and the many millions who died while wearing the uniform that have given us a chance to, amongst many more important things, celebrate our championships. Especially that one in 1946.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” –General George S. Patton
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