Growing up in Beverly, Massachusetts I was familiar with the legend of young George Patton rescuing three people whose sailboat had overturned off Beverly Cove. Last week we had a visit from a group of Coast Guard personnel and among the records selected to show them was the file documenting the incident. Imagine my surprise and delight to read the actual evidence. It actually did happen!
The records tell the story from both sides—the rescuers and the rescued.
George Patton Life-saving Medal file, ARC ID 568559, RG 26, USCG General Correspondence, 1910-35, File Code 181, Box 286, Patton, George S.
Beatrice Ayer Patton writes that on August 21, 1923, she and her husband, Major George Patton, were sailing just off the coast in “an seaworthy 14 foot skiff” when the weather became squally. “Our boat began to leak badly and become almost unmanageable.” Heading for shore, they “…heard a shout… The water was covered with white foam and black squally patches, making it difficult to distinguish any object. At last we saw three boys, apparently standing up to their armpits in the sea…As we approached the boys, they sank to their chins..One of them called to us that his two companions could not swim.”
Patrick T. Jackson, Jr., age 16, one of the three rescued writes that they had been in the water for three quarters of an hour after capsizing. “The water is always very cold off the North Shore and is especially so with an offshore wind as this wind blows all the warmer surface water out to sea. This day the water had us well chilled in about five minutes, and in fifteen we were all shivering.”
Patrick, along with his 10 year old brother Jonathan, and a friend named Charles Kendall, Jr., and been ignored by at least two boats who passed them by. Patton “…brought his boat up into the wind about twenty feet to windward of us and dropped his sail. He worked over to us and took us aboard. It was very rough and we nearly capsized him too. He and his wife were in one of the Manchester Skiff Class boats, which are very small, not much in a sea, and are only meant for two, or at most three people. There were now five in it and three of us were shivering so hard I was afraid we would tip it over.”
Mrs. Patton reports: “We stowed the boys in the bottom for warmth and sat in the stern to keep the following seas, which broke over our backs many times before we reached the lee of the land.”
Two years later the Commandant of the Coast Guard, R.E. Day, recommended the award of the silver Life-saving Medal of Honor which Major Patton acknowledged from his Hawaiian duty station.
Sifting through that file, reading those firsthand accounts, illuminated a story from my own childhood. It also reminded me, as I am reminded every day, that the National Archives has everyone’s story.
Come and explore!
View the records of the George S. Patton Life-saving Medal file on Flickr.