One of the most consequential figures of World War II, and one of its greatest generals does not lie in Arlington National Cemetery. General George Patton’s grave can be found in the country of Luxembourg, just outside its capital, Luxembourg City. Why would one of America’s greatest World War II heroes choose to have his burial here? It’s a fascinating story.
Patton’s Death and Burial
After the war, a slow-speed car accident in Mannheim, Germany did what no enemy fire could accomplish. General George S. Patton, Jr. died twelve days after suffering a broken neck and spinal injuries from the crash. No one else involved in the crash suffered serious injury. “This is a hell of a way to die,” he reportedly said when he realized he wouldn’t survive his final battle.
The four-star General who had commanded the Seventh United States Army in the Mediterranean Theater, and the Third United States Army in France and Germany after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, died only months after the war ended.
The Battle of the Bulge
Patton regarded his Third Army’s ‘Battle of the Bulge’ for control of the strategic city of Bastogne as his greatest achievement.
Hitler’s last great push of the war counted on his troops taking Bastogne quickly, and pushing on to the port city of Antwerp. But the resilience and fortitude of small bands of American troops along the front delayed the Germans. This gave Patton’s army time to get to Bastogne and hold the city – driving the final nail in the coffin of Hitler’s plans.
From his hospital bed in Heidelberg, Patton requested to be buried with his troops in Luxembourg who had perished during the effort. Today, you can find Patton’s grave at the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Hamm, a town four miles outside Luxembourg City.
The U.S. had suffered many casualties in the final months of the war. There are over 5,000 souls buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery today. My father was one of the lucky ones who survived the Battle of the Bulge. He was not in Patton’s army, but assigned to the front in the Ardennes. He and his fellow soldiers were among those who fended off the German advance, giving Patton the time he needed to reach Bastogne. I wanted to visit the site of so many who never made it home from that epic and consequential battle that changed history.
The Luxembourg American Cemetery Complex and Patton’s Grave
The American Battle Monuments Commission oversees the cemetery complex which holds the graves of 5,076 war dead including one female Army nurse. A memorial building which houses a chapel stands near the graves. Here you can find pamphlets with a map showing the layout of the complex, and take a quiet moment of reflection or prayer.
Two large stone pylons stand on either side of the chapel, called “Tablets of the Missing” which pay tribute to 371 men who remain missing in action, and whose remains were either never recovered, or who rest in unknown graves. A few have been found since the erection of the pylons, and their names are marked with small bronze rosettes.
You’ll also see large relief maps illustrating the campaigns of the Ardennes (The Bulge), and Rhineland. Fountains featuring dolphins and turtles operate during the summer months.
Don’t forget to stop in at the visitor’s center by the entrance gates for more information. Inside you can read informative story plaques with stories of valor about several soldiers, and sign the visitor book. Attendants can answer your questions. There are also nice restroom facilities just across the way from the visitor’s center.
You can find lots of free parking right by the entrance gate, and there is no admission fee.
Relocation and Current site of Patton’s Grave
Patton, originally buried side-by-side with his soldiers in the large field, now rests at the head of the group. Patton’s grave relocation resulted from so many visitors coming to pay respects that the surrounding area suffered damage from excessive foot traffic.
Many visitors’ come to see the grave of Patton, but the place itself packs an emotional punch. Leave yourself an hour or more to visit the graves, ponder the selfless bravery and sacrifice of those buried there, and the tragedy and human cost of war. As the last veterans of World War II pass on, the importance of remembering their sacrifice to ensure a free and democratic Europe has never been more urgent.
You can find the official site with travel directions, maps, and grave locators HERE. This is also a good place to learn more about the cemetery and the American Battle Monuments Commission.
And if you want to really sink your teeth into the whole Patton experience, there’s an unbelievable 8-hour guided tour that will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the General Patton Memorial and Museum in Ettelbruck, the city Patton’s Third Army liberated on Christmas Day, 1944. Then on to the National Museum of Military History, considered one of the best for World War II exhibits. The you’re off to charming Clervaux castle, where you’ll visit the Battle of the Bulge museum. Your final stop will be the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial which I’ve just described. Then back to your hotel to absorb and reflect on the amazing sites of history you’ve seen. You can book this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience through Get Your Guide, HERE.