4-612 Memorandum for the Secretary of War, December 18, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 18, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the Secretary of War

December 18, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: Army Chaplain Corps.

I have read the attached resume regarding the Chaplain Corps by Mr. Burlingham.1 With most of the points he raises I was already familiar. I will check up on the matter of appointments of Catholic chaplains to certain key positions.

There has been no question in my mind from the start that we labor under the serious disadvantage of mediocrity in the senior ranks of the Chaplain service. It has not been an easy thing to handle and could not be met in quite the same drastic fashion I followed with troop commands. Chaplain Arnold is well aware of this and has been, I am quite certain, embarrassed by the fact that certain of his assistants were not up to the desired standard. He himself, in my opinion, has been splendid. I doubt if many realize the terrific pressures under which he has been forced to operate and the successful manner in which he has met these pressures and preserved a unified front in the Chaplain Corps. He is an excellent administrator and in my opinion, a strong character, therefore I place great dependence on him.

While I have not the data to support this statement I rather imagine he has used Catholic chaplains sometimes in key positions because of his inability to get the right man in the Protestant ranks. In my opinion, and speaking very frankly, the great weakness in the matter has been that of the Protestant churches in the selection of their ministry. The Catholic system provides a much higher average of leadership, judging by my own experiences, and the Protestant churches are too kindhearted in their admission of lame ducks. On a number of occasions in the past I have had to lean on Catholic chaplains for strong support in what I was trying to do. This same condition has proved to be the case in this war. However, I will turn to this to see what we might do in the near future in the senior ranks of the permanent Corps.

Mr. Burlingham mentions two names of men to be considered as a possible Chief of Chaplains (I had no notion up to the present time that Chaplain Arnold might be retired), Milton O. Beebe, a Methodist, and Luther Miller, an Episcopalian (I am quite certain this is wrong because at the time I knew Miller he was a Lutheran).2 Miller has been rather a protege of mine. I had him with me in China and between us we ran the church up from an attendance of 8 men to standing room only. I say between us because I took a very active part in the arrangements, but of course his natural ability as a leader and a chaplain was what did the trick. I had him in mind when considering men for the position of Chief of Chaplains. I hoped that he would be selected as the chaplain for the Military Academy where he was sent for by the Superintendent for a trial appearance about five years ago. If there was to be a change he would be my choice as Chief of Chaplains, though I do not think he possesses the necessary administrative knowledge to the extent that Chaplain Arnold does—and I am not talking about a mere knowledge of the regulations but rather of the ability to administer a tremendous organization in a businesslike manner.3

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Office of the Secretary of War (RG 107), Secretary of War Safe, Chaplains, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. Charles B. Burlingham, an attorney in New York City and a trustee of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine, was described by Stimson as “a very old friend of both the President and myself.” Burlingham had written a memorandum for Stimson commenting on the Chaplain Corps’ field service based upon letters he had received from a friend in the field. (Pasco brief for Marshall, December 18, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Stimson sent a summary of Burlingham’s comments to Marshall.

The basic difficulty in the corps, Burlingham stated, was the caliber of the chaplains recruited, which varied greatly. Second, the quality of the Regular Army chaplains, who held practically all of the key administrative posts in the corps, was too often below that of the chaplains from civilian life that they supervised. Third, a disproportionate share of key administrative posts in the corps were held by Roman Catholics, and too often they were incapable of appreciating the viewpoint of the Protestant churches. For example, there were continual complaints about the distribution of literature by Catholic chaplains which attacked the Protestant faith, and William R. Arnold, the chief of Chaplains since 1937, had taken only mild action to stop this. Burlingham recommended that as Arnold was nearing retirement, the new chief should be a vigorous man with field experience. He recommended two Regular Army officers: Colonel Milton O. Beebe, a Methodist serving as chief chaplain of the North African Theater of Operations; or Colonel Luther D. Miller, an Episcopalian who was chief chaplain of the Sixth Army in the Philippines. (Stimson Memorandum re Army Chaplains, undated but written between December 11 and 15, 1944, NA/RG 107 [SW Safe, Chaplains].)

2. Miller had become an Episcopalian in the early 1930s.

3. Arnold retired effective February 14, 1945, and Miller became chief of Chaplains on April 12, 1945. Meanwhile, Marshall ordered G-1 to conduct a confidential survey of the denominational distribution of army chaplains and the selection and assignment of supervisory chaplains. Major General Henry reported that the denominational proportions of chaplains had been established in the mid-1920s, that these were close to the proportions of the various religious groups in the total population, and that religious leaders agreed that readjustments should be postponed until after the war. Supervisory chaplains were selected by the commanding general involved, not the War Department, but distribution in the army (and in the civilian population) was: Jewish, 1% (3%); Protestant, 68% (69%); Roman Catholic, 31% (28%). Henry also noted: “1 could not find any data that would lead one to believe that any particular church group can be charged with providing poorer quality chaplains than any other group.” In summary, Henry wrote, “I found no condition of any kind which would require correction.” (Henry Memorandum for the Eyes of General Marshall Only, January 3, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

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. 699-701.

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