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  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Richard Blair
  • 386th Expeditionary Medical Group
 "I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom."
                                                                        ~ George S. Patton, Jr.

General George Patton, the controversial but highly successful American field commander of World War II was widely known for his uncharacteristically blunt motivational speeches. Time and time again, he exhorted his forces to even greater accomplishments, at one time redirecting the Third Army ninety degrees north from their eastward track to successfully relieve Americans besieged at Bastogne. In doing so, Patton's troops covered over 100 miles in three days over rough terrain during harsh winter conditions with no air cover.

In spite of all his success, Patton was no stranger to personal adversity. Although an articulate and forceful speaker, he struggled with schoolwork his entire life. Beginning in childhood, he was plagued by bad grades and poor academic performance. Initially rejected for admission to West Point, he instead studied at Virginia Military Institute for a year and re-applied for and was accepted to West Point the following year. Finally, he thought, he was set to begin the illustrious military career he'd always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of his academic troubles. Throughout his freshman year at West Point, Patton's academic performance was again substandard, to the point he failed to complete the necessary coursework required for advancement to sophomore standing. If he was to ever graduate, he would be required to repeat his freshman year. More importantly, it would take him six long years of full time study to earn his undergraduate degree.

Historians now agree Patton in all likelihood suffered from a degree of dyslexia at a time when the diagnosis and treatment of learning disorders was in its infancy. In Patton's day, those with dyslexia and other learning disorders were simply labeled as "feebleminded" or "simpletons" and thus relegated at best to a life of menial labor. Patton, however, refused to entertain the idea that he was somehow destined for anything other than greatness.

Patton's words and actions indicate he possessed keen insight into the concept of resiliency; the ability to bounce back following disappointment or tragedy. In his mind, the ability to do so was the true indicator of human character.

The vast majority of West Point cadets who failed to make the grade during their freshman year left for home, never to return. But for Patton failure was not an option. After hitting an academic rock bottom, he chose to stick with the program and press on. He did not let his academic shortcomings obstruct his path to glory. Through hard work, patience, and dedication, he persevered. Today, he is widely regarded as one of history's boldest and most charismatic military leaders.

Patton's words on success, especially when taken in context with his own personal struggles, ring particularly true in today's world of overnight success and immediate gratification. In the end, the ability to pick oneself, dust oneself off, and re-engage is the real true measure of human character.