4-151 Memorandum for General Surles, November 1, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: November 1, 1943

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for General Surles

November 1, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: General Pershing story for Armistice number of TIME.

Your question as to my advice in the handling of this story is rather difficult to answer. Consulting Harbord and McCoy in New York is good, but I have my doubts about Drum who has been rather hostile to General Pershing for the past four or five years. General Craig would be a good man to include in the list and Colonel Adamson, General Pershing’s secretary in France and ADC at the present time. Baruch and Charles G. Dawes in Chicago would be good men to include in the survey. Dawes in particular could give a fine characterization as he was with General Pershing through the delicate negotiations and command problems in France.1

As to General Pershings influence on the Army today I should outline it offhand somewhat as follows:

He established the prestige of an American Army in conflict with major powers in modern warfare. He established a new General Staff system for handling both affairs in France somewhat similar to the War Department at home and for the Army in actual operations. Upon his return home he exercised a great influence on the form of the National Defense Act of June 4, 1920. Before his retirement as Chief of Staff he laid down the organization and principles for the War Department General Staff which have governed our present organization (incidentally, Fox Conner and I drafted the letter he wrote laying down these principles and also governing his statements regarding the National Defense Act). He crystallized the appreciation of higher education in the Army, particularly Leavenworth, upon whose graduates he leaned very heavily in France, to such an extent that a standing order required that every Leavenworth graduate disembarking in France would be detached from his unit and sent directly to Chaumont—there were very few of them in those days.

General Pershing was retired from active duty by the operation of law on becoming 64, September 13, 1924. At that time his tour as Chief of Staff was so terminated before the completion of a four-year period. His final statement or report on retirement contains matter that might well be referred to as being newsworthy at the present time.

As to principles and policy laid down by General Pershing, not included in the references above, I should say that they were his emphatic confirmation of the principle of offensive action, of the principle of open warfare or warfare of movement as compared to trench warfare technique into which the Allied armies had sunk in 1918, his insistence on thorough training in rifle firing for the infantry and the highest possible state of discipline.

His name, his record, his appearance, have acted through the years as a model for young Army officers.

I should say that probably his greatest contribution lay in his determined, aggressive, offensive spirit during the difficult if not black days of the Meuse-Argonne battle, October 1-15, 1918, when our partially trained and in some cases not half trained units were being thrown in a daily succession of offensive actions, in most difficult country, against the enemy. There were many, very many, in high positions who counseled a suspension of offensive action, who felt that the losses suffered, the hardships being endured, with the cold winter weather coming on and the confusion in partially trained units, demanded a cessation of active operations until a rest and reorganization could be managed. That he refused to listen to such counsel and insisted on driving ahead, criticized by many, including our Allies, marked him as a great commander, one who rose above the gloom and desperate conditions of the battlefield by sheer determination to win a victory.

Another great contribution by General Pershing which has generally been misunderstood was the strenuous training program he required for the AEF in the winter of 1918-1919. Conditions were most depressing, everyone wished to return home, the French villages were gloomy, streets filled with mud, accommodations for our soldiers in unheated barns and lofts of the worst. General Pershing required training to continue, rain or shine. Had he permitted the command to relax the result probably would have been a chaotic condition so far as discipline was concerned. Only by strenuous measures was the standard of efficiency of the Army maintained. His action in this situation probably resulted in more ill-will and condemnation than any other thing he did in France.

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. See the first volume of Papers of George Catlett Marshall for the World War I roles of and Pershing’s relations with James G. Harbord, Frank R. McCoy, Hugh A. Drum, Malin Craig, George E. Adamson, Bernard M. Baruch, and Charles G. Dawes. The story about Pershing (“Old Soldier,” Time 42 [November 15, 1943]: 55-56, 58, 60) was accompanied by a drawing of the general on the cover.

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. 174-176.

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