Posted by: philipmartin | August 26, 2010

On Mavericks and Creative Thinking

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.
– George S. Patton

I think Frank Wayne Martin. one of Patton’s soldiers, would have agreed with that . . . given his World War II assignment as part of a maverick scouting unit for Patton’s “Lucky Forward” advance headquarters, often (as told in his memoir, Patton’s Lucky Scout) working with creative license behind enemy lines to scout the best routes for the Third Army’s march through Europe . . . and given Martin’s later illustrious career as a brilliant inventor of new engineering technology, with many groundbreaking patents to his credit.

As a young soldier, on occasion reporting directly to Patton, Frank Wayne Martin was greatly influenced by Patton’s highly original way of doing things . . . including Patton’s openness to listening to all viewpoints and encouraging those around him to observe, think independently, and share their suggestions. Patton was not a “yes” man! He wanted to know what people thought, and why.

By the way, the term “maverick” was originally coined to refer to cattle; in the American Southwest, it was an unbranded cow on the open range. It came from the name of a well-known cattleman, Samuel Maverick, who refused to brand his cattle, saying he thought it was too cruel. Others suspected, however, that the real reason was that he wanted to try to claim all the unbranded cattle as his!

Now that’s creative thinking!

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Responses

  1. Reported directly to Patton??? Come on, give me a break. Big stretch of imagination here.

    • Mr. Haahr,
      Thanks for the comment and the critical concern. As editor of the work, I do understand the question of how historically accurate such stories might be. They were written long afterwards, without a diary, and many details could only really be verified by the others in his unit, his commanding officer, and such.

      However, my main point to emphasize is that memoirs are really not best seen as unblemished or objective history, but as a branch of folklore studies. As a folklorist, I’ve worked a long time with the differences between verifiable, documented history and the field of folklore. Folklore, contrary to some historian scorn, is not just poorly remembered or undocumented or invented material. It is a rich body of knowledge, constructed by people based on their cultural values, and often goes deeply into areas not well covered by historical documents. For instance, I did a major study of traditional rural fiddlers in the Midwest, mostly Wisconsin-based (Farmhouse Fiddlers), and the oral lore from interviews with old-timers filled in a topic fairly absent in the historical record. If you looked at the historical records, you’d assume there wasn’t really a lot of fiddling going on, or it wasn’t very significant – compared to, say, general-store sales of merchandise. But homemade music-making was actually quite important to the rural communities; you just couldn’t see it until you collected stories, recollections, hand-me-down bits of lore.

      In the end, stories are accurate . . . to a folklorist . . . as real, genuine stories. They are the stories people choose to tell. Even to the extent these are embellished or reshape, that tells a lot. So in the end, I think Patton’s Lucky Scout has some very interesting and valuable insights. Whether or not Patton was personally involved in creating this scouting group, or receiving occasional reports from the scouts, is unknown to me. I’m not arguing that it’s accurate history; it is, however, an authentic memoir. For instance, the tongue-in-cheek “cookbook” appendix at the end speaks about the daily life of soldiers on the front, scrounging food and making do with limited resources and GI creativity. Whether or not each recipe is a historical fact is less interesting to me than what each recipe represents about what the soldiers valued. Each recipes seems more what, as a folklorist, I’d see as a shaped story, less as a historical document.

      Here’s a blog post that speak more to the issue of memoirs: https://luckyscout.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/a-world-war-ii-memoir/

      By the way, your own book, about your service with Company C, 101st Infantry Regiment, 26th “Yankee” Infantry Division, in Patton’s Third Army, The Command is Forward (Xlibris, 2003), looks excellent.
      Check it out, blog readers!
      http://www.amazon.com/Command-Forward-James-Haahr/dp/1413421776

      Best regard,
      Philip Martin, Crickhollow Books


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