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Memorandum for General Pershing
October 28, 1940 Washington, D.C.
You will recall that I mentioned to you yesterday that the Under Secretary of State, Mr. Welles, had been trying to get in touch with me in the morning. He reached me shortly after my return from the Hospital,1 and had this request to make:
If you could see your way clear to do so, it might be very desirable if you radioed some statement to Marshal Pétain, possibly with reference to his last message to you, to the general effect—that there exists in the United States the greatest sympathy for the French people and an understanding of the tragic situation in which they find themselves. However, if the French Government should elect to enter into an agreement with the German Government looking toward the defeat of England, especially the utilization of the French Fleet for this purpose, there would inevitably be a revulsion of feeling in this country.2
In the morning papers it would appear that matters have already gone well towards an agreement of some sort between the German and French Governments. I do not know how you would feel about such a proposition, and I am merely submitting it as a result of my conversation over the telephone with Mr. Welles. I am sorry I cannot get away this morning from the office to talk to you personally, but there is little I can say that is not included in the foregoing. If you should decide to send a message to Marshal Pétain, Mr. Welles suggests that it should go through the State Department, otherwise there is little chance of its delivery, as everything that might interfere with German proposals is being kept from Marshal Pétain.3
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: John J. Pershing Papers, General Correspondence, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
- Because of ill health, John J. Pershing lived at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
- On General Pershing’s eightieth birthday (September 13, 1940), French head of state Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain had sent greetings to his “old comrade in arms.” (New York Times, September 14, 1940, p. 19.)
On October 21 British Prime Minister Churchill had requested that President Roosevelt “speak in the strongest terms” to the French about United States disapproval of any attempt to turn over the French fleet to Germany. Three days later, Adolf Hitler met with Pétain in a widely publicized conference at which the French agreed to cooperate with Germany. President Roosevelt wrote a personal message to Pétain on October 24—which was delivered to the marshal by the United States charge at Vichy on the morning of October 26—warning against surrendering the French fleet. Pétain replied on November 1 that “the French Government has declared that the French fleet would never be given up and there is nothing which today can warrant questioning this solemn promise.” (Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1940, 5 vols. [Washington: GPO, 1955–61], 2: 474–84.)
- The following is typed at the bottom of this document in the Pershing papers: “NOTE. In reply to above suggestion, I telephoned General Marshall and asked that he communicate with Mr. Welles and say that, knowing Marshal Pétain as I do, it seemed unwise for me to cable him regarding the above subject. J.J.P.”
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. 340–341.