4-388 Memorandum for the President, May 17, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: May 17, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the President

May 17, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]


We have had what is to me a distressing number of fatal accidents in the Air Corps due to violation of flying regulations by young pilots. I am informed that in the fourth quarter of 1943 98 aircraft costing $5,500,000 were destroyed, and in the first quarter of 1944 140 aircraft were lost costing $12,800,000, all as the result of violations of flying regulations. While the total financial loss of over $18,000,000 is a sizeable sum, it is the loss of life that concerns me most, particularly from the viewpoint of controlling this matter in the future.

I had instructed General Arnold to take the most drastic measures to insure the observation of regulations in this matter, and as a result a number of pilots have been brought to trial, convicted and sentenced to dismissal. At the present time I believe there are eleven cases which have been submitted for your consideration with the recommendation of The Judge Advocate General that the sentence of a dismissal be approved. There are other cases pending.1

I would recommend, Mr. President, that the sternest action be taken in this matter to conserve the lives of other men in the months to come, because I am convinced that only by such procedure can we control the youthful exuberance of these young men which causes them to disregard regulations with the consequent loss of life and property.2

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. General Henry H. Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces, notified Marshall on May 12 regarding disciplinary measures dealing with overt violations of flying regulations. Arnold expressed concern over the president’s delay in confirming the court-martial sentences in these cases. “The condition now in the Air Forces is becoming very critical as none of these young men have been dismissed from the Service,” wrote Arnold. “No final action has been taken on these cases; and there is a general feeling throughout the Air Forces that no action will be taken and these young men will go unpunished.” (Arnold Memorandum to the Chief of Staff, May 12, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 360.331].) Colonel Frank McCarthy informed General Marshall on May 12 that General Arnold’s memorandum of the same date “shows only a part of the picture of what is really happening in court martial cases. The average delay in taking action at the White House is 36 days, and in a very high proportion of cases sentences are revised downward to the great detriment of morale in the units to which sentenced officers are assigned.” (McCarthy Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, May 12, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

2. President Roosevelt responded on May 26 that of the eleven cases mentioned by General Marshall, nine had been dismissed as recommended, one had received a suspension as a result of the recommendations of the secretary of war and of The Judge Advocate General, and that “the eleventh case arrived today and will receive prompt attention.” The president expressed his agreement that “we should tighten up on these Air Corps boys, on account of their temperamental dispositions and the necessity for strict compliance with all safety regulations.” Roosevelt concluded, “You may be assured that I shall do my best to carry out your request and that of the Chief of the Air Corps in considering the merits of these cases.” (Roosevelt to Marshall, May 26, 1944, ibid.)

On July 1 Colonel McCarthy informed Marshall and Arnold that it had been reported to him that “no leniency was shown in these 11 cases and that the Secretary of War’s recommendations were upheld and confirmed in each case.” (McCarthy Memorandum for General Marshall and General Arnold, July 1, 1944, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 360.331].) For more information regarding this issue, see Marshall Memorandum to the Secretary of War, August 16, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-476 [4: 547-48].

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. 457-458.

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