Annals of an Army Wife
When George Marshall left for China in December 1945, his wife Katherine stayed in Pinehurst, North Carolina, looking for a project to keep her occupied. “I felt that I could perform neither a greater service nor pass the long months more interestingly than by putting into an informal narrative the material I had collected [in scrapbooks] since our marriage in 1930,” she wrote in the foreword.
In her introduction, she explained that Marshall had refused to write his memoirs because “his knowledge of people and events were too intimate for publication.” That was a problem because “it left the historian merely the official reports from which to paint a biographical portrait.” Together: Annals of an Army Wife was published in 1946 by Tupper and Love of New York and Atlanta, which had been founded by Tristram Tupper, her brother. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in 1947.
Katherine’s working title was Leaves From My Scrapbook: An Intimate Biography of General George C. Marshall. Her brother thought that the title was too long, and Marshall would have nothing to do with anything that suggested a biography. Marshall changed more than the title – he read and edited the book before it was published – even though he later denied doing so.
Marshall wrote Sally Chamberlin, his secretary at the Pentagon, from China in January 1946 that Katherine was working on her book, and he had recommended that she get a stenographer in Pinehurst to help her. She began by dictating into a recording machine. Marshall thought she was merely annotating and updating her scrapbooks and did not know that she was working on a publishable memoir. Larry Bland said that Marshall had edited her manuscript “to explain policy matters, remove her defense of his decisions, and soften her praise of him.”
One issue had to do with Pearl Harbor. Marshall told Chamberlin in August 1946 about a problem with the book: “I found that her write up of the Pearl Harbor incident had been almost completely changed and made to include a damaging criticism of the happenings in the Philippines at that time.” He had edited it back to its original form and sent it to Chamberlin. “I am sending you this note to ask you to check on this matter and make certain that under no circumstances is the version just received to go into the book. It would place me in the impossible position of having her, by implication and certainly with my knowledge, make the criticisms which I have carefully refrained from doing regarding this affair and numerous other issues during the war.” The published version read: “Since June 1938 – three and a half years – he [Marshall] had labored relentlessly against impossible odds to arouse and prepare America; yet America was still unprepared. Panama, Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, Wake, Guam, the Philippines – all our outposts, were woefully unprepared.”
Marshall advised Katherine on financial matters about the book in an April 1947 letter. “I am sending you in this envelope an interesting article by Bennet Cerf on the exploitation of ‘Best Seller’ lists and the public appearance of authors in bookstores and at luncheons, etc. You will be interesting [find it interesting]. I imagine that you will hold a 7 or 8 position on NY Times list and go up to 4 on Herald Tribune list of last Sunday and will maintain latter or do a bit better on next Sunday’s list. I certainly hope so. Your total sales must be around 45,000 by this time or better. I imagine, taking into consideration the heavy charge by Book of the Month Club contracts, and your contract of 52 cents per copy, that a 50,000 sale would almost be equivalent to a 100,000 Book of the Month Club sale in cash returns to you. Has anything more transpired about a cheap edition?”
In October 1947, Marshall told Winston Churchill about Katherine’s book: “Incidentally you as a great writer might be interested to know that she had never written anything before; that not a single sentence in her manuscript was changed, but her spelling required wholesale attention.” That contradicted what Marshall said to Chamberlin about editing the book.
Tom Bowers is the former docent director at George Marshall’s Dodona Manor in Leesburg, Virginia. He was professor and dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1971 to 2006.