May 8, 2015

Marshall and V-E Day

This article was originally published in 2015.


May marks the 79th Anniversary of V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, which marked the end of six long years of fighting in Europe. As news of Germany’s surrender spread, people throughout Europe and around the world poured out into the streets to celebrate the end of the war. Although the war would not be entirely over until the Japanese surrendered, Allied leaders recognized the significance of Germany’s defeat and marked the occasion by exchanging messages of congratulations.

Shortly after receiving word of Germany’s surrender from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Marshall sent Eisenhower a radio message stating, “You have made history, great history for the good of all mankind and you have stood for all we hope for and admire in an officer of the United States Army.” Eisenhower, who was in the midst of preparing a message to General Marshall when Marshall’s message arrived thanked Marshall for his message and stated, “the strongest weapon that I have always had in my hand was a confident feeling that you trusted my judgment… and were ready to sustain to the full limit of your resources and your tremendous moral support, anything that we found necessary to undertake to accomplish the defeat of the enemy.” Eisenhower closed by saying,

“Our army and people have never been so deeply indebted to any other soldier.”

Although not officially documented, General Marshall also received a glowing tribute from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who had worked closely with Marshall throughout the war. After calling General Marshall into his office and placing him in the center of the leaders of army general staff, Stimson remarked, “I have seen a great many soldiers in my lifetime and you, sir, are the finest soldier I have ever known.”

The exchange of messages also spanned the Atlantic Ocean as General Marshall sent his congratulations to Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill. Marshall’s message to Churchill stated, “I can bear personal witness to the grandeur of your leadership… [and]… the evidence of your vast contribution to the reestablishment of a civilized peace in Europe.” Churchill responded, “We certainly have seen and felt together a great deal of the hard inside working of this terrific war, and there is no one whose good opinion at the end of the struggle I value more than yours.” When someone working in the prime minister’s office asked whether Marshall’s message to Churchill and Churchill’s reply could be published in the newspaper, General Marshall had no objection to publishing his message to Churchill, but felt that publishing Churchill’s message would be a source of embarrassment for Marshall among the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Having spent the entire war serving in a staff position, General Marshall was sensitive to the fact that the contributions of these officers are often overlooked in relation to the accomplishments of field officers. One such officer, General Ira C. Eaker, acting commanding general of the Army Air Forces in the Pentagon, received a note from Marshall acknowledging “All the duties and great responsibilities you discharged with conspicuous success.” Eaker was very appreciative of Marshall’s note and responded,

“Truly, there was never another Commander so thoughtful of the feelings of his subordinates as you always are.”

Eaker continued, “I had rather have your letter and its generous references to the character of my late military service than any or all decorations I have received.”

In the midst of exchanging messages of congratulations with other Allied leaders, Marshall did not lose sight of the fact that victory in Europe was largely due to the soldiers serving in the Army. In Marshall’s V-E Day radio address, he opens his remarks by saying “My admiration and gratitude go first to those who have fallen, and to the men of the American armies of the air and ground whose complete devotion to duty and indomitable courage have overcome the enemy and every conceivable obstacle in achieving this historic victory.” Marshall’s statement to the troops carried a similar sentiment in which he extended his, “warmest congratulations and personal thanks to the leaders and soldiers whose indomitable spirit and magnificent fighting have made this historic victory possible.”

Marshall went on to say in his statement to the troops that, “Unfortunately, the conclusion of the European battle does not establish the peace for which we have been fighting.” While Marshall understood the importance of taking time to recognize those who had contributed to Allied victory in Europe, he quickly turned his attention to the Pacific where he would do everything he could to bring the war to an end as quickly as possible.