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Editorial Summary of a Meeting with Members of Congress
September 20, 1945 Washington, D.C.
Veterans and their families had been voicing complaints to the press and members of Congress about the pace and fairness of the army’s demobilization. Some people hinted that the perceived slowness was part of an effort to enable the army to retain an excessive peacetime troop strength. Marshall hoped to counter these assertions in an informal morning talk with about 350 members of Congress in the auditorium of the Library of Congress. The following is a summary of a sixty-eight-hundred-word transcript of his extemporaneous remarks that the War Department Bureau of Public Relations prepared and sent to various newspapers.
“All the facilities available in transportation and in personnel trained to handle demobilization have been devoted to release from the Service as rapidly as possible of the largest possible number of men,” Marshall began; considerations of army manpower needed for occupation duties would not influence the demobilization rate before late spring of 1946. Several months ago, he noted, the army had been forced by the budgetary timetable to issue a projected troop strength on July 1, 1946, of 2,500,000 (900,000 for the Pacific, 400,000 for Europe, and the balance in training and service organizations). Marshall conceded that these numbers had caused “considerable disturbance” to members of Congress and in the press, but they had been made before the army knew how the Japanese would react to the U.S. occupation. At the time, he reminded the audience, Japan had “an undefeated army of 2,500,000 completely equipped and well-fed men.”
Marshall discussed the massive troop and equipment redisposition in the spring and summer of 1945 from Europe to the Pacific that Germany’s defeat and the proposed autumn assault on Japan had engendered—seventeen combat divisions plus support and air troops—and the enormity of the construction effort needed to permit this. Some units had to be sent directly from Europe to the Pacific without stopping in the United States for their congressionally mandated thirty-day leave. Many individuals were disturbed by this, but that was necessary and “a hard reality of war.”
Combat divisions in Europe had to be reconstituted prior to shipment via the United States to the Pacific, causing a six-week delay in their movement to the embarkation ports. This meant that many high-point men were transported home immediately after V-E Day; but then, as the divisions reached the ports, the long-service men found themselves with a much reduced shipping priority. There were even greater problems in the Philippines, Marshall noted; there troops tended to have had “much longer service—under jungle hardships—than those in the European Theater.” There was another problem: “the long-service men were naturally the first sergeants, the leaders of the reconnaissance, the heads of the radar units, the commanders of intelligence teams, the platoon sergeants and corporals—the men that make the wheels go, that make a unit dependable in battle.” Screening out such men resulted in “a loss of about 80 per cent of our leadership.” Similar losses occurred in units in Europe. This forced the army to delay reducing the point score for demobilization eligibility despite public and troop demands.
The army had spent two years planning for an orderly demobilization, Marshall asserted; but when Japan unexpectedly surrendered, the plans were rendered obsolete. Shipping priorities were immediately revised to begin a rapid transport of high-score men home. But, he observed, the transportation pipeline from Europe was loaded with low-point men en route to the Pacific. Perhaps worse, the army found itself with fourteen divisions and numerous special units in the United States full of low-point men. If these men were released from service, this might do great harm to the morale of Pacific veterans, who were having to prepare for occupation duty in Japan.
The army had demobilized 450,000 men between May 10 and August 14, Marshall noted; and by the latter date it was releasing personnel at the rate of over 4,000 per day. “Today I think the rate is up to 17,000 a day.” Separation facilities—frequently run by experienced, long-service men who were anxious to be discharged and who were being replaced by inexperienced personnel—were now being overwhelmed.
“The process of demobilization is rather intricate,” the chief of staff explained. “In the last war men were demobilized so hurriedly that many were given records of service so incomplete they are still being corrected. We are trying to give our men all of the data required for their future relationship with the Government,” the Veterans Administration, and their employers. Nevertheless, the army had made great strides in minimizing demobilization paperwork.
“Considerable discussion” had taken place within the War Department as to whether the army was transporting men home as rapidly as possible, Marshall observed. “In the Atlantic returning ships are all full” and numerous vessels shipping supplies to Europe were bringing troops home. The Pacific problem had been slightly different for a while, but ships returning from there to the United States were now full. Soon, he assured the audience, the army would reach the point where it could discharge every person who did not have a useful job—although this would probably lead to complaints of unfairness and hardships from various quarters. He hoped that by late winter the point system would end and all men with two or more years of service would be eligible for discharge.
His mail indicated that Americans desired more certainty, a more definite schedule, regarding demobilization. “To meet that requirement,” Marshall announced, “we are going down to a critical score for enlisted men of 70 points on October 1 and to 60 points on November 1.” That change would affect 2,000,000 people. He “anticipated that during this month of September, about 450,000 will be released, about 550,000 in October, and thereafter, between 700,000 and 800,000 a month. . . . This rate will be maintained until we reach the point in the spring [of 1946] when we will be forced to determine what forces are to be required for occupation duties, and what men can be brought back for demobilization.”
July 1, 1946, was the army’s target date for the transition from “the present fluid situation” to one where the size of the peacetime army had become clear. Thereafter, Marshall said, he expected that four hundred thousand men would be needed in Europe, two hundred thousand in Japan and Korea, and some others elsewhere in the Pacific and China. The army was still working out the details of moving back to the United States the “tremendous amount of valuable material” overseas—six million tons in the European theater alone, scattered in numerous camps and depots.
Meanwhile, the army would be happy to assist congressional groups going overseas to investigate the demobilization process. “Any groups that you wish to form, I don’t care how large or how diverse the points you wish to visit, will be welcome. . . At first hand you can judge the efficiency of the demobilization system.” (GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Speeches].)
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. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 307-308.