2-144 Memorandum for General Gasser, March 26, 1940

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 26, 1940

Memorandum for General Gasser

March 26, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]

Subject: Ports of Embarkation.

Troop movements at sea last fall and during the maneuvers on the West Coast in January have brought to my attention what I fear is an impracticable aspect of our present regulations concerning ports of embarkation. As I recall, when the reinforcements were sent to Puerto Rico and Panama, there was a failure to send the proper notice at the proper time to the commander of the Port of Embarkation in New York; again, in connection with the movement of the Third Division by the fleet of transports during the joint maneuvers, there was a failure to notify the Commander of the Port of Embarkation in San Francisco at the proper time. In each instance, the corrective measure seemed to be one of placating the two Commanders of the ports of embarkation, but my concern is over a system which lends itself so easily to such oversights.

It seems to me the trouble is we are trying to operate from the War Department, which when large matters are at stake is bound to mean inevitable oversights; or it means we must change our system after the emergency arises. The latter is almost a more serious fault than the former. I talked to De Witt about the matter when I was in San Francisco, or rather he brought it up to me; and I found that he had discovered two things, the first was that General Major had received no instructions, and the second was that the Port of Embarkation there was not organized on a basis to function for such purpose. De Witt also mentioned that he was more or less responsible being the Quartermaster General at the time—for the present regulations on this subject.1

I do not know what the cure should be, but I am convinced that the War Department should not have operative responsibilities of this nature, because it cannot work in the midst of the many obligations that must be met here, as well as the state of mind of the staff officers who do not have a close responsibility for the attendant failures. Offhand, I should think that the Corps Area Commanders should be given responsibility, while the War Department should determine the policy; that the Corps Area commanders should be decentralized to a certain extent from the detailed transport passenger schedules and freight consignments and that so far as possible the War Department be cut out from immediate directive connection. I believe this is the case in the Philippines and Hawaii; therefore I do not see why it should not be the case here.

Along with this same subject comes up the question of exempted stations. I was much impressed at Christmas time with the tremendous number of letters I had to sign to exempted stations, and I do not believe such scattered responsibility can ever be coordinated by the War Department.2 I hesitate to involve the Staff in a prolonged study on this subject, but I do want the Ports of Embarkation considered immediately and put on a solid basis for operation in time of war.

I attach some comments that just came to me this morning, which may or may not have some bearing on the plot.3

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. There were two army ports of embarkation at this time (New York and San Francisco) under the quartermaster general; they were defined and regulated by A. R. 30-1110. Brigadier General Duncan K. Major, Jr., commanded the San Francisco Port of Embarkation at Fort Mason, California, from October 1938 until his retirement on February 1, 1940. Lieutenant General John L. De Witt, commander of the Fourth Army and the Ninth Corps Area, had been quartermaster general between February 1930 and February 1934.

2. Exempted stations were those not under the jurisdiction of their respective corps area commanders. These included such stations as schools, medical facilities, arsenals, ordnance depots, most air bases, and the ports of embarkation. In April 1940, there were 112 active exempted stations listed in the Army Directory; the commanders of many of these could report directly to the chief of staff under certain conditions.

3. Copies of the enclosures to Gasser are not in the Marshall papers. The G-3 division of the General Staff prepared a study on embarkation port procedures and submitted it to the chief of staff in May 1940. Marshall was dissatisfied with the study, commenting: “I do not learn from your memorandum enough to reassure me that you have a working system now.” (Marshall Memorandum for Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, May 20, 1940, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 178-180.

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