12 of History’s Most Stirring and Profound Military Quotes

George Patton speaking_with Lyle Bernard ca.1943

Many a great U.S. military leader has also been profoundly well spoken. Their words below will make you proud, and perhaps give you a few goosebumps. Remember to thank a veteran this Veterans’ Day.

George S. Patton, Jr.

George S. Patton, Jr.

1. George S. Patton, Jr.:

“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”

Pocket Patriot: Quotes from American Heroes (2005) edited by Kelly Nickell, p. 157.

General George Smith Patton, Jr. is best known for leading the U.S. Third Army in France and Germany following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. He was known in his time as “America’s Fightingest General.” Gen. Patton is also one of the most quotable men of all time. Other famous lines of his include “A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood” and “The highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“The hand of the aggressor is stayed by strength — and strength alone.”

From a 1951 speech at an English Speaking Union Dinner.

Dwight David Eisenhower, a.k.a. “Ike”, served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II before being elected as America’s 34th President.

Douglas MacArthur via Dept. of Defense

3. Douglas MacArthur:

“Could I have but a line a century hence crediting a contribution to the advance of peace, I would gladly yield every honor which has been accorded me in war.”

Macarthur and the American Century: A Reader (2001) edited by William M Leary

General Douglas MacArthur was an American five-star general and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. He served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines Campaign, which made him and his father Arthur MacArthur, Jr., the first father and son to be awarded the medal.

Colin Powell via U.S. Dept. of State

4. Colin Powell:

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (2003) by Oren Harari, p. 164

General Colin Luther Powell served as the 65th United States Secretary of State from January 20, 2001 to November 12, 2004. He also served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989),  Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993).

John F. Kennedy Official White House Portrait (Aaron Shikler)

5. John F. Kennedy:

“In a world of danger and trial, peace is our deepest aspiration, and when peace comes we will gladly convert not our swords into plowshares, but our bombs into peaceful reactors, and our planes into space vessels. ‘Pursue peace,’ the Bible tells us, and we shall pursue it with every effort and every energy that we possess. But it is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war.”

Speech at Civic Auditorium, Seattle, Washington (1960)

John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy served as the 35th President of the United States at the heigh of the Cold War and was in office from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.

6. Richard Grenier: 

“People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Commonly misattributed to George Orwell, this iconic and truthful military quote is actually from a 1993 essay by Richard Grenier in which he was interpreting Orwell’s beliefs in his own words.

Richard Grenier was a neoconservative cultural columnist and film critic. He had a degree in engineering from the United States Naval Academy.

Anthony McAuliffe decorated by Patton with the Cross of Merit Distinguished by the defense of Bastogne

7. Anthony MacAuliffe:

“Nuts.”

– said in response to a German surrender ultimatum.

The famously laconic General Anthony Clement “Nuts” McAuliffe was the acting commander of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division troops defending Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. As this story goes, the Acting Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Ned Moore, awakened McAulliffe in the middle of the night and said to him, “The Germans have sent some people forward to take our surrender.” McAuliffe, still half asleep, said “Nuts!” as he started to climb out of his sleeping bag.

When the Germans received this reply from McAuliffe’s men, they asked, “What does this mean?”

“Du kannst zum Teufel gehen,” the Americans explained (“You can go to hell”).

8. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr.

“True courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job.”

Pocket Patriot: Quotes from American Heroes (2005) Edited by Kelly Nickell, p. 53

General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., a.k.a. Stormin’ Norman, served as Commander-in-Chief (now known as “Combatant Commander”) of U.S. Central Command and was commander of the Coalition Forces in the Gulf War of 1991.

George Washington portrait by Rembrandt Peale

9. George Washington:

“As to pay, Sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress that as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous employment at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it.”

Acceptance speech following his appointment as commander of the yet-to-be-created Continental Army (June 15, 1775)

George Washington was the successful Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War and was elected unanimously, twice, as the first President.

Bela Lyon Pratt’s bronze statue of Nathan Hale, Washington, D.C.

10. Nathan Hale:

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Last words before being hanged for treason against Britain

Nathan Hale was an American soldier and spy for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission in New York City and was captured by the British and executed at age 21.

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull

11. Alexander Hamilton:

“It is long since I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.”

Letter to Washington, November 1794

General Alexander Hamilton was chief staff aide to George Washington, the founder of the Federalist Party and the Father of the United States Coast Guard, among many other accomplishments as a Founding Father of the United States.

Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe, left, and then-Col. Harry W.O. Kinnard II at Bastogne, after victory battle via U.S. War Dept.

12. An unnamed medic:

“They’ve got us surrounded — the poor bastards.”

This was another amazing moment from The Battle of the Bulge. As the story is told in Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, 12,000 soldiers were holed up near Bastogne when Corporal Carson of Easy Company asked a medic, “Hey, how come you got so many wounded people around here? Aren’t we evacuating anybody?”

“Haven’t you heard?” the medic replied.

“I haven’t heard a damn thing.”

And that’s when the medic said, “They’ve got us surrounded — the poor bastards.”

Indeed, although the Germans managed to begin their surprise offensive with success, the Allied soldiers held them off long enough that Gen. Patton’s 4th Armored Division, supplemented by the 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division, was able to provide relief.

comments

  1. avatar Survivordude1090 says:

    1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

      Sabaton is a great band.

  2. avatar Gregolas says:

    Thank you, TTAG, for this stirring reminder of our national resolve.

  3. avatar SkorpionFan says:

    8. Ummm. That is a photo of Brigadier General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr., the father of General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. (“Stormin’ Norman”). Please change the photo.

    1. avatar SkorpionFan says:

      Thanks for quickly fixing the photo. 😁

  4. avatar Closebutnocigar says:

    Nice picture of Schwarzkopf Senior.

  5. avatar TrueBornSonofLiberty says:

    ‘Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.’
    James “Mad dog” Mattis

    1. avatar MikeJH121 says:

      And Mattis also replied, when asked what keeps him awake at night, “I keep other people awake at night”

      Also when at a Pentagon presser he was asked about his concerns for 2018 he said, ” don’t have concerns. I create them”

    2. avatar NateInPA says:

      “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f%&* with me, I’ll kill you all.”

      Best one.

  6. avatar tmm says:

    Good stuff, I particularly like the Patton quote.

    1. avatar neiowa says:

      The Patton quote at I’ve long heard it was. “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way”

      In contrast from quota baby Powell “Would you prefer ass kissing or boot licking sir?”

  7. avatar Peter says:

    7. Anthony MacAuliffe:

    I had heard that he actually said, “Balls!”, but that was a bit too risque for the home audience so the newspapers, and everyone else subsequently, changed it to Nuts.

    1. avatar 10tharmd says:

      I was ‘Balls’!

      that is from a grandson of a 10th armd member that was there and saved a seat by the fire for the 101st THAT CAME WAY LATER to the party already on!

      gramps said…you can prove the 10th was there with one simple fact—nazi armored div’s RUN over light inf like the 101st for fun!..our guns, our tanks stopped that from happening!

    2. avatar 2WarAbnVet says:

      And it was LTC Harry Kinnard who suggested the response. (as my division commander in 1965, he pinned on my jump wings)

  8. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

    My two bits.

    “God and soldier we adore,
    In time of trouble but not before,
    When danger is past and
    The wrong been righted,
    God is forgotten and
    The Soldier slighted.”
    — Anonymous

    “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” — Faramir (Tolkien character)

    1. avatar SkorpionFan says:

      As long as we are quoting fictional soldiers, how about:

      “I say we take off, nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”
      ― Corporal Dwayne Hicks, United States Colonial Marine Corps (Aliens, 1986)

      “There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.”
      ― Sergeant Charles Zim, Mobile Infantry (Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers, 1959)

      “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.”
      ― Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois (Ret.) (Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers, 1959)

      1. avatar neiowa says:

        A lot of wisdom in Heinlein.

        And none in the crap Hollywierd made of it.

      2. avatar Pg2 says:

        “ I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick some ass….and I’m all out of bubble gum”. -Roddy Piper, They Live.

        1. avatar LazrBeam says:

          A very under appreciated flick. It’s got a fight scene that made me tired just watching it.

        2. avatar David Hunt says:

          That’s Rowdy Roddy Piper

  9. avatar tdiinva says:

    We always remember the famous but the ordinary are forgotten.

    https://youtu.be/weYTjOcSqxg

    Since this is also Rememberance Day and my mother is Canadian

    https://youtu.be/MMXI2F_Xna4

  10. avatar timbo762 says:

    It’s true that George Washington served without pay. However his contract stated that he would be reimbursed in gold for his out of pocket expenses, thus inventing the “expense account”. He kept a very accurate account and gave it to the Congress after the war. He was very smart. Had he been payed during the war, it would have been in next to worthless “Continentals” and had he lost the war, he would have been hanged by the English as a traitor and all of his property seized anyway.

  11. avatar Jason A Somers says:

    “The time for war has not yet come but it will and my advice is to draw the sword and cast away the scabbard.” Stonewall Jackson

  12. avatar Pg2 says:

    “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers.”-Major General Smedley Butler.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      Did he resign his commission? Renounce his citizenship and become an ex pat in protest? After he scored the lifetime benefits of retirement did he speak out.

      Doesn’t sound like a man of honor to me.

      1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

        It just took him awhile to figure it out.
        LeMay really did not have a great view of war either.
        Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.
        Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/curtis_lemay_228406
        “I don’t mind being called tough, because in this racket, it’s the tough guys who lead the survivors.”
        I will let the readers figure out who came up with this little gem.
        I do not think there was ever a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico. I thought so at the time, when I was a youngster, only I had not moral courage enough to resign.

        1. avatar jwm says:

          All war is not immoral. There are ruthless, maniacal folk in history that could only be stopped by war.

          Just as there are folks on our streets that can only be stopped with violence.

        2. avatar neiowa says:

          Lemay was bitter when he figured out that all the AirFarce’s BS was.

      2. avatar Pg2 says:

        He said war is a racket. He didn’t say he was a man of honor. He implies otherwise by his own admissions.

        1. avatar jwm says:

          His statements stacked against his lifetime of service to war reflects on his credibility. His ‘war is a racket’ reflects his opinion only. The opinion of a man that was content to serve the MAC until he got his bennies before he spoke out.

          What angle, what profit was he looking for when he spoke out? Quoting him is akin to quoting shannon watts on matters of grass roots gun control. Or big pharma on vaccines.

        2. avatar Pg2 says:

          Aw Jwm doesn’t like a quote from someone else that contradicts his own opinion, so throws a mini tantrum. Good stuff.

        3. avatar jwm says:

          You’re a projectionist pg2.

        4. avatar Pg2 says:

          I misread your post the first time, and after rereading my reply would’ve been somewhat different. My bad on the tantrum comment, but disagree with your statement. Butler made a statement(s) you seem to have a problem with, referencing his quotes has nothing in common with referring to Shannon Watts.

        5. avatar jwm says:

          Butler, like watts, sold out for money. Butler spent a lifetime sucking at the tax tit and when he was comfortable he turned on the system that he spent a lifetime serving. But only after he was comfortable. watts sold her soul for bloombergs money.

          I wouldn’t trust either one. And I would never quote either one in a serious conversation.

        6. avatar Pg2 says:

          Who said anything about trust? By his own admissions he’s was a scumbag, that’s what gives his comments some validity. Are you saying he is lying?

        7. avatar jwm says:

          He self admits, thru his words, to being an untrustworthy weasel. Once I know that I don’t give his statements any worth.

          That’s what I’m saying.

    2. avatar Chris T in KY says:

      General Butler was a anti-war military pensioner hypocrite. He made good money killing the people. And he felt guilty. He should have refused his military pension. But he was a socialist progressive. The capitalist system he complained about has given him in a great living standard.

      1. avatar bryan1980 says:

        Agreed…….it’s pretty easy to speak out against a system once you’ve lined your pockets working for it.

  13. avatar SkorpionFan says:

    Some more good quotes from two of the men listed above

    Douglas MacArthur
    “Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons.”

    George S. Patton
    “A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
    “May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.”
    “No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making other bastards die for their country.”
    “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
    “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
    These last two also apply to the corporate business world.

  14. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    I see some of the Civil War Generals were not PC enough to make the list.
    Lee, Sherman, Forrest, Longstreet, Grant, and others had some not very flattering views on war in general.
    I see LeMay did not make the list either.
    War is gore.

    1. avatar Napresto says:

      I’ve always liked this one from Grant: “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.“

      Sort of summarizes what war ultimately boils down to for all concerned: win, give up, or die.

      1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

        Grant was not quite as blood thirsty as thought.
        Though I have been trained as a soldier, and participated in many battles, there never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.

        1. avatar napresto says:

          I think you’re probably right that alternative means can usually be found (or at least, should be found), at least before things turn to war. And it is true, Grant never glorified war or killing – he is absolutely not the drunken butcher that some make him out to be. But this quote is his reply to a request for terms as his forces were preparing to take Fort Donelson, written to express nothing more than plain truth: the Federal forces were coming in whether the Confederates liked it or not, and there weren’t going to be any terms, conditions, or compromises about it. This was after several days of fighting, with a lot of people killed on both sides (though many fewer than would die in later battles). In such a moment, the few remaining options for the Confederates were quite clear, and I admire Grant’s ability to express those options simply and plainly, yet eloquently and without heavy-handed cruelty or barbarism.

    2. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      War means fighting, and fighting means killing. Nathan Bedford Forrest
      Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/nathan_bedford_forrest_539878
      This quote originates from his address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy (19 June 1879); but slightly varying accounts of this speech have been published:
      I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
      Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!
      William Tecumseh Sherman (8 February 1820 – 14 February 1891) was a United States Army general during the American Civil War.

    3. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      “Kill them, sir. Kill every man.”

      –Gen. Stonewall Jackson

  15. avatar pcb_duffer says:

    “When war comes, draw the sword and throw away the scabbard”
    Thomas J. Jackson

    1. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      Really enjoyed “Rebel Yell” by Sam Gwynn re. the life of Stonewall Jackson. I recommend it.

  16. avatar GS650G says:

    Politicians start wars and soldiers finish them.

  17. avatar Mister Fleas says:

    Commander Ernest E. Evans of the destroyer USS Johnston at the Battle off Samar, Oct. 25th, 1944:

    “A large Japanese fleet has been contacted. They are fifteen miles away and headed in our direction. They are believed to have four battleships, eight cruisers, and a number of destroyers. This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”
    Evans was killed that day, the Johnston sunk and he was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor.

    Winfield Scott: “The enemy say we are good at a long shot, but cannot stand the cold iron. I call on you to give the lie to that slander. Charge!”

    1. avatar Ragnarredbeard says:

      If you ever get a chance, read “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors”. Its the story of the battle off Samar. The guys in those destroyers and destroyer escorts needed the ships to get around since they couldn’t have walked very far with the huge balls they had.

      1. avatar Joseph Quixote says:

        +1

      2. avatar Mister Fleas says:

        It is a very good read indeed.

  18. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

    ” “Nuts.”

    – said in response to a German surrender ultimatum.”

    That has to be my favorite…

  19. avatar Mister Fleas says:

    Alvin York: “When you have God behind, you can come on top every time.

    I noticed the bushes all around where I stood in my fight with the machine guns were all cut down. The bullets went over my head and on either side. But they never touched me…[General Lindsey]’York, how did you do it?’ And I answered him, ‘Sir, it is not man power. A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do’…No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards.”

  20. avatar Ralph says:

    “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
    “That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.”

  21. avatar Ogre says:

    About the quote from MajGen Smedley Butler, I (as a Marine) have long wondered about what motivated him to make anti-military statements. He was a successful Marine officer for 33 years, winning two Medals of Honor. His enthusiasm for the service seemed boundless. But his dad was a U.S. congressman who was chairman of the military appropriations committee, so one must wonder how much “protection” he provided and how much he influenced the success of his son’s career and the favorable reports he got from his superiors. It is noted that the Major General Commandant would not let Butler anywhere near the battlefields of France in WWI, possibly because of his dad. So my opinion is that Butler enjoyed his career and all that it entailed, but “got religion” later in his life and felt compelled to speak out. If that makes him seem hypocritical, so be it. It is also likely that he became embittered at not being selected as Commandant (after his dad died). He was outspoken and not well-liked by some officers in the Corps. Nevertheless, Butler is still a legend of the Corps due to his two MOHs.

  22. avatar Ogre says:

    Great one – Simonides’ famous epitaph on the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. I’m reading Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire” again.

  23. avatar Turd Fergusen says:

    Just went and watched “Patton” at my local movie theatre today. A fitting tribute if there ever was one for a man who was held up as an almost god-like status in my household, my father having served under both Patton and Omar Bradley. I remember as a young boy being taken to the theatre when the movie came out in the 1960s, and it being an experience similar to attending high Mass.

    My deepest thanks and respect for all of those who have served our Country, especially those who gave the highest sacrifice to maintain our freedom and way of life.

  24. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

    Gen. Geo. S. Patton, after a speech given at the Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston MA, June 7, 1945

  25. avatar tdiinva says:

    “There are no extrodinary men, just extrordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.”

    William F. Halsey

  26. avatar sound awake says:

    question:

    why do we honor them by calling them the greatest generation and then proceed to dishonor them by NOT DOING *ANYTHING* THEY WAY *THEY* WOULD FUCKING DO IT

    just wondering is all

  27. avatar Ragnarredbeard says:

    #4 is profound and stirring? It sounds like a blurb from a business school.

  28. avatar Ragnarredbeard says:

    Its not a single quote, but if you can read Travis’ letter from the Alamo without feeling something, you’re dead inside.

    http://texasheritagesociety.org/The-Travis-Letter-Victory-or-Death-.html

    1. avatar Mister Fleas says:

      That put a lump in my throat.

  29. avatar Falcon642 says:

    “They are so many and our country is so small, where will we find room to bury them all?”

    Finnish soldier when the Soviet Union invaded in 1939.

  30. avatar Daniel says:

    “Your rifle is only a tool. It is a hard heart that kills.” Gunnery Sergeant Hartman

  31. avatar J says:

    No love for Chesty?

    “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29:1. They can’t get away from us now!”

    “Take me to the Brig. I want to see the “real Marines”.
    – Major General Chesty Puller, USMC – while on a Battalion inspection.

    “Our Country won’t go on forever, if we stay soft as we are now. There won’t be any AMERICA because some foreign soldiery will invade us and take our women and breed a hardier race!”
    – Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC

    “Paper-work will ruin any military force”
    – Lieutenant-General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller

    “Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!”
    – Chesty Puller motivating his men at Chosin Reservoir

  32. avatar adverse5 says:

    So many have died for what has become so little.

  33. avatar Jason A Somers says:

    “I fear bullets in battle as I fear them in bed. The Lord has determined the time for my death, it is not for me to concern myself with. All men should feel this way then all men would be equally brave.” Stonewall Jackson speaking to a young Captain when asked about his boldness in battle.

  34. avatar George D. says:

    Twelve just isn’t enough. All the ones so far are great. Does anyone remember MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country”? It’s aimed at Army guys, but equally applicable to all services. Read the whole thing here.

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/Army/USMA/MacArthur/1962_speech_to_the_Corps.html

  35. avatar Jim Macklin says:

    Perhaps the typical government school doesn’t teach it anymore. But Patrick Henry said a whole lot more than “Give me liberty or give me death.”
    Patrick Henry’s objections to the Constitution of 1787 and the speeches he made in opposition to Virginia ratifying the Constitution are why we have a Bill of Rights.
    Patrick Henry may have been “the greatest American” whose life has been shortened to a single quote.
    If he’d have been as rich as George Washington he might have been our first President.

  36. avatar Jim Macklin says:

    I’ll make up a quote for General McKay…”How did we win te war against Japan? We dropped the F bomb on them.”

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