4-250 Memorandum for Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1, February 14, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 14, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1 [White]


February 14, 1944 Washington, D.C.

Subject: Personnel Shortages, Physical Profile, Limited Service.

Yesterday morning I had a lengthy talk with General Kirk on the above subjects. In referring to the difficulties we have gotten into and the large number of discharges from the army for physical disabilities (I believe he said in the ratio of about one to every three being inducted at the time), he said that with the large numbers of civilian doctors who have to carry out our orders there is always considerable possibility of misunderstandings unless the order itself is easily understood and not easily misunderstood. He referred to one order, Serial 161 I believe, which abolished limited service which he felt had cost us a very large number of men, I believe somewhere between fifty and eighty thousand, largely through misunderstanding of the intent of the order. I am giving you the roughest generalization of the conversation, but it will serve as the basis of a discussion with me.

Regarding the physical profile, he feels that the proposal from his headquarters (that of General Somervell) is not an over-simplification and did not develop in that manner. General Nelson, speaking for General McNarney, thought it “too vague and meaningless to facilitate proper assignment” and that it would have an unfortunate morale effect, similar to that of the former characterization of limited service. Kirk, of course, does not agree with this.

In Nelson’s memorandum to me he spoke of the profile serial as being necessary to “set up a yardstick which will permit a tabulation to be made of the numerical distribution of the various categories for physical fitness.”1 This implies a re-examination physically of the entire army which, I am sure, is not intended. I will talk to Nelson about this. Meanwhile I want you to have it in mind.

Kirk makes quite a point, and it seems to me a good point, that the system we proceed on requires an unnecessarily large number of physical re-examinations preliminary to reassignment. He gave me a number of illustrations, all of which indicated a heavy and unnecessary burden on the Medical Corps.

Before I go any further in this matter I would like you to have a personal talk with General Kirk.2

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Record of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Office of the Chief of Staff (OCS), 201.5, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. By the end of 1943 the War Department was working on a system to make better use of soldiers according to their physical qualifications. Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph T. McNarney was chairman of a committee to work on a physical classification system. Plans were submitted by Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair of the Army Ground Forces, Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk, and the G-1 Division, but it was difficult to reach agreement on any one plan. By the end of January 1944, the chief of staff had approved in principle a Physical Profile system which provided an index of a soldier’s physical fitness. (Minutes, Meeting of the General Council, January 31, 1944, NA/RG 407 [334.8, General Council Minutes].) Nelson’s memorandum is not in the Marshall papers. (See Millett, Organization and Role of the Army Service Forces, pp. 99-100, 159-60.)

2. Major General Miller G. White replied that “General Kirk’s plan, as submitted by General Somervell, and the profile plan directed by the Deputy Chief of Staff both have the same ends in view but arrive at them by slightly different routes. General Kirk agreed with me that it would be well for us to go ahead with our test and development of the profile plan and delay any final decision on the system permanently adopted until these tests have been completed, about the middle of April.” (White Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, February 26, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 201.5].) In February reception centers began to use the Physical Profile Plan on an experimental basis, and on May 18 the War Department officially announced the plan. A soldier’s physical profile serial was based on a grade for each of six categories: stamina, upper extremities, lower extremities, hearing, vision, and emotional stability. Reception centers, hospitals, reassignment centers, and redistribution stations were directed to administer the physical profile. (War Department Memorandum No. W 40-44, May 18, 1944, ibid.) The Physical Profile system is discussed in Palmer, Wiley, and Keast, Procurement and Training of Ground Combat Troops, pp. 64-69.

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 297-298.

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