At the sound of galloping horses, the bandit killer drew his ivory handled colt. It was good for 6 shots and - while there were only three bandits - they were riding hard and fast and straight at him. Conditions that don’t necessarily enhance one’s ability to shoot calmly and accurately.
Strangely enough, even as the bullets began to crack past the bandit killer’s face, he remained calm. Remarkably calm for such a young officer engaged in his first fight.
But he really wasn’t all that young. And this wasn’t his first fight, not really.
You see, there’s no way around the fact that if you want to advance in your career as an officer of the United States Army, you must spend time in the field.
For some career officers, this is an annoying inconvenience, a dirty little nuisance, or aggravating steppingstone. Having to brush shoulders with what they consider to be their lessers, while at the same time putting themselves in harm’s way just to attain rank.
For others, like our young butter bar 2nd lieutenant here, it becomes a way of life - a higher calling.
So, when the young officer heard there was still action to be found down on the border with Mexico, he jumped at the assignment, heading to west Texas as part of C Troop, 13th Cavalry.
Very fitting for the young officer who - as a child - often sat at the feet of another cavalryman, an old warrior known as the Gray Ghost.
But the Gray Ghost had never fought on the west Texas border.
A border that, by the time our young Lieutenant got there, had already long been a source of wild west lore. It was home territory to old west heroes like Judge Roy Bean and King Fisher.
Real life legends such as Quanah Parker, Charlie Goodnight, Leander McNelly, and Bigfoot Wallace – you know, the old breed - all knew firsthand both the dangers and excitement of that border country.
An area that was still plenty wild by the time our young Lieutenant got there. Hell, to hear some locals tell it, there was still a small pocket of wild Apache who would - at times - come down out of the mountains and conduct swift raids into Mexico.
But as far as the Lieutenant was concerned, those were just rumors. And besides, any Apache hold outs there may be out there no longer posed a threat to the American people that the young officer now served.
The real threat - the new menace - that resulted in the lieutenant being sent there, came in the form of some Mexican bandits who had recently became so bold as to strike gringo settlements.
And so, our young officer (who really wasn’t all that young), was tasked with putting an end to such rank banditry.
A duty that soon took he and his men across the border into Old Mexico. Searching through the blistering treeless spaces, where – eventually – they located three of their quarry, holed up in a hacienda near a place called Rubio, in the state of Chihuahua.
The young officer, who wasn’t really that young, ordered his men to set up a position outside the gates of the ranch before he himself advanced towards the main house, the afore mentioned pearl handled colt at the ready.
As he drew close three bandits on horseback suddenly burst forth, guns drawn and heading directly towards his men’s location. However, upon seeing that the Norte Americanos were ready and waiting, the Mexicans whirled their mounts and raced back to where they came from and, incidentally, straight towards the young officer, who decided that it might just be a good time to put that old fashioned single action colt of his into play.
His first shot caught the lead rider in the arm, but it was the young lieutenant’s second shot that did the trick, the 45-caliber slug striking the bandit’s horse and toppling both man and beast to the hard ground.
That wasn’t no lucky shot, He was – in fact - aiming for the horse. A trick he had been taught by an old frontier veteran. A Texas Ranger by the name of Dave Allison who had recently befriended the young officer in the border town of El Paso.
And If anybody would know such a thing, it was Dave Allison. Who, in addition to being a Texas Ranger, had also spent time as a sheriff, an Arizona Ranger, and a range detective. Dave was part of the old breed I mentioned earlier.
But back to the young lieutenant (who really wasn’t that young).
He once again cocked back the hammer on that colt and squeezed the trigger, and once again another horse and rider spilled to the dirt.
The third bandit, deciding that he had had enough fun for one day, began making his getaway. The lieutenant holstered his colt and shouldered his rifle, feeling that familiar kick as it barked in unison with rifles of his men. And just like that the final bandit fell, without a single U.S. soldier getting so much as wounded.
Not a bad day’s work for a young lieutenant. And not a bad showing for his first taste of combat.
But like I keep saying, this 2nd lieutenant wasn’t really all that young. And this wasn’t really his first taste of combat.
No, he had served before.
He was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars where, just like here in Mexico and just like he would continue to do for decades to come, he had led men in battle, and in doing so not only earned an elite title but gained recognition from the emperor himself.
But that wasn’t his first fight either.
No, you see, the young lieutenant had also served in England prior to that, fighting at the side of hardened Scottish highlanders for the house of Stuart.
And even that wasn’t his first fight.
Before that he served the English at Agincourt. Oh, what feats he did there with the few, the happy few, gentling his condition while causing gentlemen abroad to hold their manhood’s cheap.
And yet still, even before that, in another time and another land, he wielded the roman short sword – a damn good sword - drinking deeply of Gaul and Parthian blood before feeling the sting of the arrow.
And yet before that he saw action in Northern Africa. He was there when Carthage fell, saw the brave Carthaginian’s stripped of their tunics and their swords and their lances.
And yet again, even before that, under another name, another guise, he served Darius when they decimated the great Persian Navy and again when - for five long months - the young officer lay siege to the city of Tyre until it’s walls fell.
Time and time again, spanning centuries and continents, the young officer laughed in the face of both death and demise and overwhelming numbers.
Some of these conflicts are now long lost to history, echoes of war drums from centuries past when men painted their bodies for battle and readied themselves to die for causes no living man recalls, on and for lands and territories and pastures that no longer exist and on blood soaked ship decks floating on seas with no names.
He fought at times for both right for wrong, for God and Country, letting his conscious lead him as readily into battle as did his beastly lust for rape, fighting to appease his hunger - and his shame.
He’s seen the twisted faces of men dying in agony, some of which he can recall clear as day, but others not so clearly, recalling them as if looking through a glass, darkly.
He knows the feel of a pike grown wet and slippery. He’s familiar with the weight of a spear in hand, a spear perfectly formed over the fires of a hundred lonely camps, one balanced and ready for war.
He knows the gratifying thump sound as the spearhead finds flesh, the terrible death scream of the wooly mammoth as it falls, heaving, the ground shaking, it’s hot breath forming a vapor in the cold air, the satisfaction of knowing he can feed his village, that his family might survive another winter. Just one more winter.
And even earlier still, as a hairy heathen semblance of what someday might be called man, back when we used teeth in lieu of the spear or sword. He was there.
No, this little dust up in old Mexico wasn’t this young officer’s first fight. Nor would it be his last.
For his actions that day at the hacienda he earned the nickname Bandit Killer and days following the fight got promoted to first lieutenant. And not only that, but he also made history.
Unlike his predecessors, he didn’t travel into Mexico via horseback. No, the steeds he and his men rode on that day were made by the Ford Motor company. And the battle they fought would go down in history as the first ever motorized car attack.
But the bandit killer wasn’t content with just being a mere footnote to history. And he damn sure wasn’t ready to retire.
The roman sword and the pear handled colt would soon be replaced by machine guns and tanks, and the moniker bandit killer would be replaced with another nickname: Ole Blood n Guts.
Or, as you may know him, General George S. Patton.
Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
I have fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star.
In the form of many people
In all panoplies of time
Have I seen the luring vision
Of the Victory Maid, sublime.
I have battled for fresh mammoth,
I have warred for pastures new,
I have listened to the whispers
When the race trek instinct grew.
I have known the call to battle
In each changeless changing shape
From the high souled voice of conscience
To the beastly lust for rape.
I have sinned and I have suffered,
Played the hero and the knave;
Fought for belly, shame, or country,
And for each have found a grave.
I cannot name my battles
For the visions are not clear,
Yet, I see the twisted faces
And I feel the rending spear.
Perhaps I stabbed our Savior
In His sacred helpless side.
Yet, I’ve called His name in blessing
When in after times I died.
In the dimness of the shadows
Where we hairy heathens warred,
I can taste in thought the lifeblood;
We used teeth before the sword.
While in later clearer vision
I can sense the coppery sweat,
Feel the pikes grow wet and slippery
When our Phalanx, Cyrus met.
Hear the rattle of the harness
Where the Persian darts bounced clear,
See their chariots wheel in panic
From the Hoplite’s leveled spear.
See the goal grow monthly longer,
Reaching for the walls of Tyre.
Hear the crash of tons of granite,
Smell the quenchless eastern fire.
Still more clearly as a Roman,
Can I see the Legion close,
As our third rank moved in forward
And the short sword found our foes.
Once again I feel the anguish
Of that blistering treeless plain
When the Parthian showered death bolts,
And our discipline was in vain.
I remember all the suffering
Of those arrows in my neck.
Yet, I stabbed a grinning savage
As I died upon my back.
Once again I smell the heat sparks
When my Flemish plate gave way
And the lance ripped through my entrails
As on Crecy’s field I lay.
In the windless, blinding stillness
Of the glittering tropic sea
I can see the bubbles rising
Where we set the captives free.
Midst the spume of half a tempest
I have heard the bulwarks go
When the crashing, point blank round shot
Sent destruction to our foe.
I have fought with gun and cutlass
On the red and slippery deck
With all Hell aflame within me
And a rope around my neck.
And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor’s Star.
Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in its quivering gloom.
So but now with Tanks a’clatter
Have I waddled on the foe
Belching death at twenty paces,
By the star shell’s ghastly glow.
So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.
And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.
So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more.