Kevin M. Hymel (pronounced e-mail) is the research director for “WWII History” and “Military Heritage”magazines. He is a battlefield tour guide for Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours and leads an annual tour of General Patton’s European battlefields.
Kevin is the author of “Patton’s Photographs: War As He Saw It.” While researching an article on Gen. George S. Patton, he made an astonishing discovery. Browsing the Library of Congress’s Patton index, he found lists of photo albums. Opening one, he found photos Patton himself took during World War II, a gold mine of historical photographs of which even Martin Blumenson, Patton’s official biographer, was unaware.
Patton photographed everything that interested him and produced tableaux of the battlefields of North Africa, Sicily, and continental Europe. For Patton, history was everything, and his Leica camera-standard issue for reporters and historians in the U.S. Army-ensured he could provide historians an accurate depiction of events, free from interpretation. His photographs depict the victorious face of war, with GIs on the move, military bridges under construction, and tanks slicing through the countryside. They show defeat as well-smashed German tanks, prisoners of war, and bodies strewn across the landscape. Moreover, they provide a record of where Patton fought, showcasing historic sights and the different terrain from North Africa to Europe.
“Patton’s Photographs: War As He Saw It,” is a groundbreaking book filling a vacuum in the understanding of one of America’s truly outstanding military leaders. George S. Patton, Jr., was an inspiring and controversial bigger than life character with a reputation that still resonates sixty-plus years after his death. Patton’s Photographs enhance and expand his status among his legion of admirers and anyone interested in the World War II era. Thanks to Kevin, we can now add “photographer” and “human being” to the list of Patton labels. They will stand beside the already well established titles of soldier, leader, athlete, writer, and historian.
Kevin hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Imagine if George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, or Robert E. Lee had a camera with them during their campaigns.” It excites the imagination just to think about it. They did not have cameras because such things were yet to be or the technology prevented personal photography. Patton may have been the first general to regularly use a camera, and he put it to good use. To see these pictures is to know and see the war through Patton’s eye rather than just through his mind’s eye.
There is a universality of soldiering that transcends the ages. One can read that in the histories of past wars and now see it in these pages. Any veteran of our recent conflicts will connect to these photos. The photographs taken by Patton resemble the shots taken by contemporary soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Eastern Europe that are now so readily available through the magic of digital photography. Any soldier that ate or slept in one of Saddam’s palaces in 2003 will recognize the shared experiences of soldiers across the generations when he reads that, “He [Patton] soon settled into a 900-year old castle where he enjoyed eating K-rations on fine china adorned with the cross of Saxony.
The photo of Patton’s pre-Sicily invasion training area in Algeria is reminiscent of the training areas in Kuwait for those soldiers preparing to enter Iraq. Patton led by example by participating in the urban street fighting, admitting that the bullets passing overhead “…frightened me to death.” Time may change but soldiering and leadership do not. The pictures of destroyed enemy equipment will be eerily familiar to any combat veteran no matter where or when he served.
This is the first time that many of Patton’s personal photographs are presented in a book for one to observe history as Patton himself saw it. Also included by Hymel is background information and captions for the photographs and occasional uses of Patton’s own (sanitized) words to describe the sights. Patton claimed his hobby once saved his life. Stopping to take a photograph in Italy, he witnessed a salvo of German shells exploding on the roadway up ahead, where he likely would have been had he not stopped.
Kevin is also coauthor of ”Patton: Legendary World War II Leader,” which he wrote with famed Patton historian, Martin Blumenson.
Kevin received his Bachelor’s Degree in History from LaSalle University and a Master’s Degree from Villanova University. He lives in Arlington, VA when he is not out running around the world visiting battle sites and interviewing World War II Veterans. He is also assisting the Department of the Army interviewing returning soldiers from Afghanistan, and working on the ultimate biography of General George S. Patton.
Kevin is a frequent guest on MSNBC News, “War Stories with Oliver North,” and was a major contributor to The History Channel’s “Patton 360” series.