3-366 Editorial Note on Reduction of Draft Age, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: World War II

Editorial Note on Reduction of Draft Age

June-October 1942

Marshall had been pressing since the summer for a solution to the army’s growing shortage of enlisted strength, but the president was not anxious to undertake a significantly more rapid expansion than had been contemplated before the decisions were made to invade French North Africa and to make a significant commitment to the South Pacific. The draft law of 1940 had required all males aged twenty-one to thirty-five to register with the Selective Service System. This law was amended on December 20, 1941, to extend draft liability from twenty to forty-five years and to require all males eighteen to sixty-four to register. On June 30, 1942, eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds registered. But twice during the summer Roosevelt told reporters that the government had no immediate plans to extend draft eligibility to that group. (New York Times, June 10, 1942, p. 1, and July 18, 1942, p. 15.)

The question of reducing the draft age continued to surface, and it was well known that the War Department favored the change. The New York Times reported from Washington, however, that “in political quarters it has been generally understood that no such legislation would be acted upon prior to the elections in November.” (September 2, 1942, p. 12.) Senator Chan Gurney (Republican from South Dakota) and Congressman James W. Wadsworth, Jr. (Republican from New York), introduced bills into Congress on September 3 and 7 to modify the 1940 law, but Roosevelt undermined the bills’ supporters by saying, on September 11, that he did not believe eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds needed to be drafted in 1942. (Ibid., September 12, p. 11.)

In an October 2 memorandum, Marshall informed the president that the army was short 550,000 enlisted men and listed certain divisions and the numbers they were below strength. He reminded the commander in chief that the army’s strength affected the planning for housing, materiel, and dozens of other factors. (Marshall Memorandum for the President, October 2, 1942, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) At noon Marshall went to the White House to press his case personally, and that afternoon there was a lengthy manpower discussion during the Cabinet meeting. The president continued to insist upon a manpower total for the army below what Marshall believed necessary. On Saturday and Sunday, October 3-4, Marshall visited Fort Bragg, and among other things he inspected the base hospital, which seemed to him to contain an unusual number of older enlisted patients. Marshall returned to the White House on Monday, October 5. A week later he provided documentation for his insistence that the army was having to accept too many older drafted men who were subsequently discovered to have significant physical disabilities. He listed cases at Fort Bragg of men aged thirty-two to forty-four whose medical conditions the army was obligated to treat, whose military efficiency was limited, and who would have been more useful to the war effort performing their civilian jobs. That evening, during his radio Fireside Chat, Roosevelt announced that the army had to have younger fighting men and that he supported the reduction in the draft age. (Marshall Memorandum for the President, October 12, 1942, ibid.; Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1942 volume, p. 423.)

The next afternoon, October 13, Secretary of War Stimson recorded in his diary: “The President suddenly called me up, telling me that he had persuaded the leaders of the Congress to pass at once as quickly as possible the amendment of the draft law taking in the eighteen and nineteen year old classes, and he asked if Marshall and I would go up and appear before the House Committee tomorrow morning. I told him we would and that I would convey the word to Marshall. I spent the rest of the afternoon with Marshall getting together the material and facts and settling my mind over the presentation.” (Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 40: 1461.) Marshall was also scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. To both committees he emphasized the need to curtail the induction of older men and the need to train young men for combat. In addition, Marshall elaborated on the points he listed in the following memorandum, which he prepared for his October 14 appearance on Capitol Hill.

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 394-396.

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