“General, How About Getting a Nice Coat”

When it’s cold, you wear a coat. When you’re a soldier and it’s cold, you wear whatever coat is issued to you.

While serving as Army Chief of Staff during World War II, we most often see Gen. George Marshall in his Army-issue coat, which is a trench coat with a button-in woolen liner for warmth. We saw it in the city:

General Marshall and Col. Frank McCarthy

We saw it in the field:

Brig. Gen. William Colburn, Lt. Col. Marcus Ray, and Gen. Marshall in Italy, February 1944.

In early 1945, Marshall was preparing to attend the Allied conference in Yalta, set for February 1945, and planning for very cold weather in the Crimea. Sgt. James Powder, Marshall’s orderly, made a suggestion. “General, how about getting a nice coat.”

Marshall agreed, so Powder went to Quartermaster Tim White and ordered the coat. Powder recounts: “When the coat came in … I brought it in here and tried it on him; it fit him just like, I mean it was made for him. And he says, ‘That’s beautiful. How much it cost?’ I says, ‘Not much.’ So he gave me a check. If he didn’t pay for the material, he’d pay for the workmanship – whatever it was, he’d pay one or the other so there was nobody could say that he got this coat for nothing.”

The overcoat made its debut in the Crimea en route to the Yalta Conference.

Gen. Marshall at Saki Airfield, Crimea, on Feb. 3, 1945.

It was seen several times throughout the conference:

Gen. Marshall entering Livadia Palace.

 

Getting ready for a group photo in the courtyard at Livadia Palace Feb. 9, 1945. Also shown are President Roosevelt, Premier Stalin, and Secretary of State Edward Stettinius.

The overcoat went with him to China, but we have no photos of him wearing it there. We do have photos of Marshall wearing his overcoat in Japan with Gen. MacArthur as Marshall was returning to China after a trip to Washington, D.C., to brief President Truman. Notice that MacArthur is wearing the issue trench coat.

Gen. Marshall and Gen. MacArthur in Japan, March 12, 1946.

As Secretary of State, Marshall again wore his overcoat to the Soviet Union, this time to Moscow for the Foreign Ministers Conference in 1947.

Secretary of State Marshall arriving via U.S. Air Force plane in Moscow in March 1947.

The weather in Moscow surely made Marshall glad that he accepted Sgt. Powder’s suggestion.

Secretary of State Marshall exiting the Hotel Moscow in a snowstorm.

The overcoat is now at the George C. Marshall Foundation, where I got to view it. It is certainly a beautiful coat, even at 76 years old.

Full-length color photo of overcoat courtesy of Cody Youngblood.

 

Melissa has been at GCMF since Fall 2019, and previously 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. Keep up with her @life_melissas.