At this point Podhajsky still didn't know his Lipizzans were under U.S. protection. But on May 7, eight days after Hitler committed suicide and the same day the Germans surrendered, Podhajsky put on a performance in St. Martins for U.S. troops. Gen. George S. Patton just happened to be there, visiting Maj. Gen. Walton Walker.
Many accounts, including Disney's, credit Patton with ordering and even leading the evacuation. But Patton actually hadn't heard about the stolen horses yet, and his recollection of that day's performance, in his autobiography War As I Knew It, reveals that he was less than thrilled. "It struck me as rather strange," he wrote, "that, in the midst of a world at war, some 20 young and middle-aged men in great physical condition...had spent their entire time teaching a group of horses to wiggle their butts and raise their feet.... Much as I like horses, this seemed to me wasted energy."
Still, Patton was a horseman—he had competed, after all, in the 1912 Olympic modern pentathlon—and he did find some merit in the display. "It is probably wrong to permit any highly developed art, no matter how fatuous, to perish from the earth," he wrote. "To me, the high schooling of horses is certainly more interesting than either painting or music."
When Podhajsky asked Patton to put the horses under U.S. protection, Patton asked an aide to investigate. "That's probably how Patton got all the credit for the mission," says Holz, now a retired economist and chairman of the Second Cavalry Association. "He's the one who eventually got to say, 'Everything's going to be O.K.' But it really was Colonel Reed, a sub-field commander, who took the initiative and showed the compassion and intelligence to complete this mission."
On May 12 the U.S. soldiers began trucking, riding and herding the horses 35 miles over the border to Kotztinz, Germany. The Army sent a plane so that Podhajsky could come see the Lipizzans, and he then took all of them to St. Martins, where he kept his and sent the rest back to their owners. The other horses, and some of the soldiers, went on to Mansbach, Germany, where they spent the summer.
As a gift from Podhajsky, Col. Fred Hamilton, chief of the Army's Remount, chose about 200 horses, worth an estimated $1 million, to take back to the U.S., including three Lipizzan stallions and six Lipizzan mares. The ship on which they traveled nearly capsized in a winter storm—the horses were literally busting out of their stalls—but nary a sailor nor horse was lost. Several years later, when the Department of Agriculture disbanded the Remount, the horses went to private owners.
Since then many other private owners in the U.S. have imported Lipizzans from Europe and have even begun breeding them. It couldn't have been done, however, without the help of the Second Cavalry. "People risked their lives to get those horses out," Lightstone says. It wasn't the most dangerous mission in the war, but there were snipers around Hostau. We should be thankful the breed is still here."
The veterans themselves are rather modest. Holz even calls the rescue an "evacuation." Still, he says, "I have spent two thirds of my life trying to get the story right. I have a passion for it."