When the commander of the Army cyber branch’s schoolhouse prepared his dress uniform on Thursday night ahead of his promotion to major general, he was clueless of the history lesson awaiting him.
Now-Maj. Gen. Paul Stanton’s promotion after a year leading the Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia, was long-coming, too. He previously commanded the service’s Cyber Protection Brigade and completed tours as Cyber Command’s current operations director and the schoolhouse’s deputy commander.
Stanton was at his kitchen table on the evening ahead of his promotion when his father, retired Army three-star and former budget director Edgar Stanton III, pulled out a letter with a sterling silver major general rank insignia pinned to it.
The letter, which Stanton shared online, explained the origin of the insignia: the stars had first belonged to the legendary, if controversial, Gen. George Patton, who received them when he took command of the 2nd Armored Division in 1942.
Patton’s widow, Beatrice Ayer, passed the stars to the general’s WWII-era operations officer — Gen. Paul Harkins — when he received his second star and took command of the 45th Infantry Division during the Korean War. Harkins went on to become the first commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam in 1962.
Harkins in turn gave Patton’s insignia to Maj. Gen. William Mundie, a former aide, when he took command of Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, in 1975.
Stanton’s father, who was Mundie’s aide during his tour at the helm of Army Recruiting Command, received the stars from his mentor in 2006, with instructions to pass them on to his son — should he reach the two-star rank.
And before Thursday evening, the younger Stanton never knew any of this.
The following afternoon, he stood at attention as his own stars were pinned on the shoulder of his service uniform.
Stanton on Tuesday told Army Times and C4ISRNET at a conference in Augusta, Georgia, that talking about the history of the insignia gives him “chills.”
“I was an ounce emotional when my dad handed me the stars at the kitchen table,” he explained. “It was pretty powerful — I literally did not know those stars existed.”
Stanton said he’s bound to the wishes of Mundie, who died in 2019, when it comes to where the stars will go next.
“I haven’t decided how I’m going to memorialize it and hang onto it [in the short-term],” he shared. “[Long-term], I have basically two options: I can hand them to a future two-star general or I will dedicate them to the museum at [West Point].”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.