On this day in history, General Patton issued an order to all commanders in the Seventh Army, then stationed in Italy:
It has come to my attention that a very small number of soldiers are going to the hospital on the pretext that they are nervously incapable of combat. Such men are cowards, and bring discredit on the Army and disgrace to their comrades who they heartlessly leave to endure the danger of a battle which they themselves use the hospital as a means of escaping.
You will take measures to see that such cases are not sent to the hospital, but are dealt with in their units.
Those who are not willing to fight will be tried by Court-Martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy.”
The order was precipitated by a visit Patton made two days earlier to a military hospital in Sicily. A 24-year-old solder was weeping, and told Patton it was because of his nerves. Patton, reportedly enraged, called the soldier a coward and ordered him back to the front. He yelled at him, “Why don’t you act like a man instead of damn sniveling baby?” He then slapped him.
Medical officers were so appalled they reported Patton’s actions to Eisenhower, who wrote to Patton that “conduct such as described in the accompanying report will not be tolerated in this theater no matter who the offender may be.”
Patton ceased with the slapping, but not with his feelings about the matter. On June 5, 1944, he gave a motivational speech to the troops again addressing the issue of cowardice:
You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would be killed in a major battle. Every man is scared in his first action. If he says he’s not, he’s a goddamn liar. But the real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared. Some men will get over their fright in a minute under fire, some take an hour, and for some it takes days. But the real man never lets his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood.”