5-181 Memorandum for General Surles, August 1, 1945

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: August 1, 1945

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for General Surles

August 1, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]

We are undoubtedly going to have a considerable reaction from the soldiers against restricting them in the matter of trophies, war souvenirs.1 I should like the War Department attitude to be considered immediately from the viewpoint of our doing something first and not being thrown on the explanatory defensive. At the moment I have this thought for a possible early release.

A transport recently arrived at Norfolk not only carrying Marlene Dietrich with 11 revolvers of one type or another, for which she had a certificate of permission, but I am told there were 35,000 trophy weapons on the vessel2 and also that the FBI were much concerned over this rate of distribution of such firearms about the United States.

I was talking to Patton three days ago at Berchtesgaden and he told me that he had been greatly shocked to receive the statistics of his Headquarters showing that in a single week in the Third Army 70 soldiers had been killed and 500 wounded in fooling with the German machine pistol. As a result these pistols have been called in for safekeeping, labeled with the man’s name.

Now with Marlene Dietrich as the saleslady for the publicity, the 35,000 weapons on the vessel and what Patton has just told me, certainly a very newsy release could be turned out based largely on confiscating Marlene’s trophies despite the fact that she had a certificate authorizing her to keep them. The presentation of the story need not concentrate on depriving the soldier of his trophies, to his profound irritation and probably to the encouragement of political reactions as usual. On the other hand the implication would be very clear. Possibly it would be better to give the story to a single individual rather than have a general release, provided immediate publicity would result. Couldn’t something like the following be done:

“The Army finds itself in a difficult position with relation to a glamorous moving picture star. Global warfare has been productive of many complications but the most recent is rather unique.

“A transport recently arrived at Newport News with Marlene Dietrich as its most conspicuous personality. She had been 11 months overseas and had worked valiantly for the entertainment of the soldiers. The complications in the matter grew out of the fact that she arrived with 11 weapons in her possession, mostly pistols, all trophies given her and for which she had an official permit signed by an officer in Europe.

“Investigation revealed the fact that there were approximately 35,000 weapons, trophies, in the possession of the troops on the transport. The FBI people were much disturbed at such a wholesale distribution of highly dangerous firearms. Marlene’s 11 trophies were taken over by the Army and she has submitted a formal protest.

“The general complications in this matter are increasing daily and the soldier of course is deeply resentful of any restrictions regarding his trophies of the fighting in which he risked his life. However, the consequences of unrestricted permission in this matter can be very serious as evidenced by the fact that recently in a single week in one of our Armies in Europe 70 men were killed and 500 wounded in mishandling German machine pistols which had been seized as trophies.”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. Army Service Forces headquarters had recommended that the section on war trophies in War Department Circular 155 (May 28, 1945) be amended to prohibit an individual from bringing into the United States more than one serviceable authorized type of enemy firearm. This was done in late August. (See the documents in NA/RG 165 [OCS, 332.2 (July 29, 1945)].)

2. There were approximately 4,500 men on the vessel. Dietrich, a film star since 1922, had been born in Berlin in December 1901, but since 1937 she had been a United States citizen. In 1944 and 1945, she spent months entertaining Allied troops in North Africa and close to the front in western Europe, sometimes at considerable danger to herself.

3. Marshall’s statement (corrected to note that Dietrich had been overseas ten months and had only ten pistols in her possession) was given to Time, but the magazine did not run the story. Several months later, a brief item in Newsweek noted that the Treasury Department’s Alcohol Tax Unit (which enforced the National Firearms Act) estimated that there were 2.5 enemy firearms in the United States for every soldier who had returned from overseas. (“Souvenirs of Death,” Newsweek 27 [April 29, 1946]: 24.)

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. 254-255.

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