1-571 Editorial Note on Appointment as Chief of Staff, April 1939

Publisher: The George C. Marshall Foundation
Date: April 1, 1939

Editorial Note on Appointment as Chief of Staff

April 1939

President Roosevelt was expected to announce the name of the next army chief of staff before the summer of 1939. At the end of June, General Malin Craig, who had held that post since October 2, 1935, would take his final leave prior to retiring on August 31. Tradition demanded that the man named to be chief of staff or to be the chief of any branch have at least four years to serve before his retirement. There were sixty-seven general officers on active duty, according to the April 20, 1939, edition of the semiannual Army List and Directory. Of this group, twenty major generals (excluding Malin Craig) and eleven brigadier generals ranked ahead of Marshall. But when the four-years-to-serve rule was applied, Marshall was fifth, behind Major Generals Hugh A. Drum, John L. De Witt, Frank W. Rowell, and Walter Krueger.

Hugh Drum was widely considered to be the leading candidate for the chief’s job, and he actively campaigned for the position. De Witt, Rowell, and Krueger had neither mounted active campaigns, nor had powerful supporters who lobbied in their behalf. There was no assurance, however, that the president would not reach below Marshall on the eligibility list for a younger man.

The strength of Drum’s own campaign may have worked against him. In May, Boake Carter, a syndicated newspaper columnist who favored Drum and was critical of the Roosevelt Administration, wrote: “Tremendous pressure was exerted upon Mr. Roosevelt to appoint General Drum. But perhaps Hugh Drum’s friends should have read the history of the last seven years and known better. The greater the pressure exerted on Mr. Roosevelt for an appointment to an office, the greater the determination of the President not to yield, regardless of the merits of the candidate involved.” (“FDR Wanted a `Yes-Man’,” New York Daily Mirror, May 5, 1939.)

Marshall was instructed to meet President Roosevelt in the White House on Sunday, April 23. He arrived at approximately 3:35 P.M. and stayed forty minutes. (FDRL/White House Usher’s Diary.) He was to be the new chief of staff, the president said; even Secretary of War Woodring had as yet not been informed. As soon as Malin Craig took his leave of absence prior to retirement—at the end of June—Marshall would become acting chief of staff. He would be sworn-in officially on September 1, 1939. Although General Pershing was in France at this time, his influence over the years had undoubtedly been to Marshall’s benefit. A more recent acquaintance, Harry L. Hopkins, also admired him and had strongly recommended him to the president. (Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948], p. 11.)

Seeking to avoid the interviews with the press and the congratulatory publicity that would inevitably follow the announcement of his promotion, Marshall asked the president to postpone the release of the news until April 27. By that time he expected to be gone on a week-long inspection trip of West Coast installations. (K. T. Marshall, Together, pp. 42-43.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 712-713.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 1-571

Rights: Public Information