After an inauspicious beginning, a lifelong friendship
The mentorship of Gen. John Pershing for Capt. George Marshall almost didn’t happen. When the two first met in the early days of American involvement in World War I, Pershing’s dressing down of the 1st Division commander offended Marshall so much that put his hand on Pershing’s sleeve and “practically forced him to talk,” Marshall said later. Pershing saw value in a young soldier willing to tell the truth even at his own peril, and brought Marshall to work in G-3 (Operations and Training) section of the AEF headquarters. At the end of the war, Pershing asked Marshall to stay on as his aide-de-camp, a plum assignment for such a young officer.
In October 1919, a month after Pershing, Marshall and other officers had arrived home from France, Pershing and Marshall joined Maj. Gen. Fox Conner, for whom Marshall had worked in the AEF, at Brandreth Lake in upstate New York.
This preserve consisted of more than 27,000 acres of woodland and an 890-acre lake, and was owned by the family of Conner’s wife, Virginia Brandreth Conner. The group enjoyed 10 days of hunting and fishing; the first opportunity that Marshall and Pershing had to relax, have fun and enjoy their shared non-military interests.
At least two deer were taken during this trip — a six-point buck by Pershing, and a four-point buck by Marshall. There are no photos of the fish caught, but there must have been a few as Marshall was an avid fisherman.
The group stayed at Camp Good Enough, part of the Brandreth family enclave. The camp was rather rustic, and although it had electricity, it was heated by wood from that giant pile.
This short vacation may have cemented the concern Pershing had in seeing Marshall excel in the Army, as he became Marshall’s mentor and the two stayed close friends the rest of Pershing’s life. It was not unusual for a senior officer to be involved in a promising younger officer’s career; Conner played such a role in Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Army career beginning just after World War I.
Pershing encouraged Marshall, and at times encouraged others on Marshall’s behalf. When Army Chief of Staff Gen. Malin Craig retired the summer of 1939, Pershing told President Roosevelt that Marshall should be the next Chief of Staff, and Roosevelt listened. Marshall kept a painting of Pershing hung behind his desk while Chief of Staff.
Pershing was also a father figure to Marshall, whose own father died in 1909. The two corresponded regularly, with Marshall always remembering Pershing’s birthday. Pershing was Marshall’s best man when he married Katherine in 1930, and Marshall edited Pershing’s autobiography that fall (much to Katherine’s chagrin). Marshall visited Pershing at his retirement home in the Southwest when he drove to Vancouver Barracks in 1936.
Marshall was present when Pershing finally accepted the Distinguished Service Cross on his 80th birthday in 1940. As Secretary of State, Marshall would secretly visit Pershing at Walter Reed hospital, where Pershing lived as his health failed.
You just never know where a good hunting and fishing trip will take you in life.
(Of interest, Conner’s son, Fox Brandreth Conner, inherited the Brandreth family business, which made “Havahart” traps.)
Before becoming director of library and archives at the George C. Marshall Foundation, Melissa was an academic librarian specializing in history. She and her husband, John, have three grown children, and live in Rockbridge County with three large rescue dogs. Melissa is known as the happiest librarian in the world! Keep up with her @MelissasLibrary.