- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
When I finish a book with tears in my eyes, as I just did with a work by Robert Hays, “Patton’s Oracle: Gen. Oscar Koch, as I knew Him” (Lucidus Books, a division of Herndon-Sugarman Press, Savoy, IL, available from Amazon, 272 pages, index, photographs, notes, appendix, price, discounted by Amazon.com: $9.98) I know I’ve experienced great writing.
It all began when I learned that Robert Hays was writing about Gen. George S. Patton’s friend and intelligence officer (G-2) during some of the most significant campaigns of World War II. I knew I had to read and review the book. I had given a rave review to a novel by Hays, “Blood on the Roses” (for my July 10, 2011 review:http://www.huntingtonnews.net/5947) and I wanted — as a WW II and history buff — to see the record set right for once and for all by a fellow Illinoisan and a distinguished author and journalist. I knew that Bob Hays would do the job. In addition to discussing his friendship and collaboration with Koch, the book is a personal memoir.
More than four years ago, I reviewed a book about the strange occurrences surrounding the death of Patton in a motor vehicle accident after the war, in the fall of 1945. Robert K. Wilcox’s “Target: Patton” was reviewed by me on Dec. 18, 2008 (link: http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/081218-kinchen-columnsbookrev…).
If your knowledge of “Old Blood and Guts” — as George Smith Patton Jr. was widely called during his lifetime (1885-1945) consists solely of the 1970 movie directed by Franklin Schaffner and starring George C. Scott — you don’t know the real story. Gen. Oscar Koch (Jan. 10, 1897- May 16, 1970) died before he saw the movie — for which Hays gives much thanks — but Koch’s widow saw it and hated the portrait it painted of Patton, not to mention the total omission of Koch from the film. (Koch’s G-2 role was given a fictional name, Col. Gaston Bell). Nan Koch wanted John Wayne to play Patton and was appalled at the treatment of her beloved husband by the movie makers.
Col. Oscar Koch’s sterling performance as Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s intelligence chief — or as it’s known in military lingo G-2 — was a critical element of Patton’s success in World War II and earned Koch the reputation as arguably the most brilliant intelligence officer in U.S. Army history.
Koch’s collection and analysis of information in early winter 1944 led him to issue stern warnings of the German buildup preceding the Battle of the Bulge and let Patton be prepared, but higher headquarters — represented by Eisenhower and General Omar N. Bradley (1893-1981) — a technical advisor to producer Frank McCarthy on the 1970 film and played by Karl Malden in it) refused to listen. Today, intelligence specialists cite that work as a model for combat intelligence training. Unfortunately, writers as well known as Stephen Ambrose and John S.D. Eisenhower omitted or dismissed Oscar Koch’s contributions to Patton’s success, Hays writes in the latter part of the book.
Born to a German Jewish family in Milwaukee, Koch (pronounced “kotch”) began his distinguished military career in 1915 in his hometown as an 18-year-old enlistee with Troop A, First Wisconsin Cavalry and thereafter served on the Mexican border with General John J. Pershing. Koch subsequently served in France in World War I , and in 1920, was commissioned an officer in the regular army cavalry.
After World War II, Koch went on to help overhaul the CIA and serve in a command position as a brigadier general in Korea, retiring from the army in 1954.
In retirement, Koch earned a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship to support research and writing on intelligence in combat. His friendship with Robert Hays, a young journalist who also happened to be a veteran of Koch’s beloved U.S. Third Army, led to a book that has become a crucial source for military historians, “G-2: Intelligence for Patton”.
Hays offers a deeply personal account of their relationship, reveals the general’s astonishingly gentle and caring nature, and describes Koch’s philosophy and concerns about the intriguing field of intelligence. Overarching all is the poignant story of Koch’s valiant battle with terminal cancer.
The reader will understand why Hays grants Oscar Koch the eminent rank of personal hero and feels an obligation to help assure his place in history. Any author who has tried to find a publisher will also appreciate the agony an author has to undergo to see his or her work — or the collaborative work represented by “G-2: Intelligence for Patton”, by Gen. Oscar Koch with Robert Hays as “country editor” –published. It’s better today, because alternate forms of publishing as well as eBooks have made it possible for books that aren’t accepted by traditional houses to see the light of day. Hays was soon welcomed as an honorary member of the family of Oscar and Nan Koch and delivered a stirring eulogy at a memorial service for the General (included in its entirety in the book). If you’re a World War II history buff, Hays’ book is must reading. It’s a highly moving tribute to a great man by a friend whose life was enriched by the friendship.
About the Author
Robert Hays has been a newspaper reporter, public relations writer, magazine editor, and university professor and administrator. A native of Illinois, he taught in Texas and Missouri and retired in 2008 from a long journalism teaching career at the University of Illinois. He holds three degrees, including an interdisciplinary Ph.d., from Southern Illinois University and is a U.S. Army veteran. He has spent a great deal of time in South Carolina, the home state of his wife Mary, and has been a member of the South Carolina Writers Workshop. His publications include academic journal and popular periodical articles and nine previous books, including one published in paperback edition under a new title and his collaborative work with Gen. Oscar Koch, G-2: Intelligence for Patton. Robert and Mary live in Champaign, Illinois. They have two sons and a grandson and share (long story!) a cat named Eddie with the family next door.