5-090 Remarks at Annual Conference of Supervisory Chaplains, April 5, 1945

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: April 5, 1945

Subject: World War II

Remarks at Annual Conference of Supervisory Chaplains1


April 5, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]

I am glad to have the opportunity of seeing you gentlemen before you conclude your conference, as there are one or two things about which I wish to speak to you directly.

What has been accomplished by the Corps of Chaplains in this war has been most gratifying. We are not through by a long way, and there has to be a great improvement. Our divisions get better as they fight on. The same is true of the Corps of Chaplains. It should become better and better, more virile and more effective. Starting from the level of 1939 I think the progress has been remarkable.

There is no doubt the Corps has been a great help to the War Department by the confidence it has instilled in the God-fearing public, the great mass of our people. The work accomplished under Chaplain Arnold’s direction and guidance represents a masterly achievement. What I am particularly impressed with is the way the standards of efficiency have been raised. To be perfectly frank, in the long past that had been the weakest point in the conduct of religious activities in the army. I always felt it came from this state of mind: If you had a poor colonel, you could get rid of him; if you had an ineffective chaplain, you accepted that fact as your cross to bear without thought of remedial action as in the case of an officer of the line.2

In all questions touching the army, I must never allow myself to be over-concerned about the interests of the individual whose effectiveness is in question. My concern must be more concentrated on the effect of his inefficiency on the rank and file. In 40 odd years of service I have seen outstanding examples of splendid leadership on the part of army chaplains. I have observed many innocuous, ineffective men, hardly noticed by others. A highly effective man has always impressed me deeply. I found this true as a post commander, as an area commander, and very much the case when I was charged with responsibility for CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] groups. An outstandingly effective chaplain was my most valuable staff officer, for a very able leader in the chaplaincy solved a great portion of the individual problems of command and control. It has been a matter of gratification to me and great relief to know that, during this war, everything connected with the Chaplain Corps has been on a high standard.

To go back to my first comment, the Chaplain Corps has still to grow, to do more. An ineffective minister will empty a cathedral; a good one does not require a church. He can take his men in the woods and fields and do a grand job. You must not rest on your laurels because you have excellent chapels. The War Department, indeed the entire army, requires important assistance from the Corps of Chaplains, particularly in the European Theater of Operations.

We are rapidly approaching the moment for the initiation of redeployment to the Pacific. That will probably be the most difficult period in the history of the army. It involves one of the greatest administrative and logistical efforts ever undertaken. The various aspects of it, affecting morale and the efficiency of the army, are so compelling and so numerous that it is going to require masterly handling on the part of everyone in positions of command, control or influence. The moment actual hostilities terminate in Europe, the most natural reaction will be an overwhelming desire on the part of every man to rejoin his wife and family, to see his girl friend, to return home, to get away from the scenes of destruction and misery where he has hazarded and suffered so much. He will want to leave immediately. But what will actually happen to him?

The army must turn, almost within an hour—and it is prepared to do so—to move critical units through the Panama and Suez Canals as fast as possible to the battlefront in the Pacific. A 12,000-mile transfer lies ahead. It must be accomplished without delay. The next operations scheduled are hinged on prompt action. We will be juggling with the seasons. One season lost can delay operations—and victory—six months. Every day this war is delayed, every hour it is delayed, men are killed and wounded. From a purely economic point of view, delay will mean millions and may mean billions expended to harass us in future taxes. We would much rather use the money for the benefit of the people. If you look to the individual in Europe, he will tell you how long he has been overseas and how much he desires to go home. It would be an outrage to the troops in the Pacific, however, to prejudice their chances by delaying operations while others are brought home. The soldier in Europe must be made to realize that. The Chaplain can play a large part in solacing his outraged feelings and in giving spiritual guidance, bringing him down to a philosophical acceptance of where his duty lies. He has been willing to die for his country. Many of his companions have died. It will be difficult for him to accept this situation without turbulent reaction. That will constitute one of the problems you must face.

The urge to get back is tremendous. The conditions surrounding the soldier are not conducive to patience or philosophy. Fortunately, it appears that this period will be in the summer season and in the fall. After the last war it was just as we entered the disagreeable, uncomfortable northern European winter; December, January and February. The lot of the soldier in Europe who lived under those conditions was far from pleasant.

In addition there is the problem of feeding the suffering people of devastated regions. It matters not whether they are enemy or liberated people. To you as chaplains they are human beings in the charitable, benevolent view that must be yours. But you must have in mind that shipping, or rather the lack of it, stands partially in the way of our national impulse to do more than we are doing for these people. It determines how much we can allocate for carrying supplies to Europe without leaving more men to die in the Pacific. It is this delicate balance that will be so difficult to maintain. If redeployment is delayed, the enemy is given an opportunity to recover and the battle is prolonged. The enemy is permitted to re-establish himself, which he is capable of doing quickly. There will be heavy pressure from numerous countries for shipping to relieve their suffering—one of the greatest tragedies in the history of mankind.

The great influence of the Chaplains will be needed, particularly during this redeployment period. There is a large number of chaplains in the European Theater who can contribute much toward easing the sacrifice which the individual soldier in Europe must now make. Notwithstanding the fact that earlier he was willing to sacrifice his life, he will be less willing to endure delay in his return to the United States. It will be difficult for the men in their place to recognize that meeting their individual desire or impatience will prolong the war and involve additional death and mutilation for others. I find in talking to men of one theater or locality that they are only looking down their own particular slot, one of many slots in this global war.

Reactions from the soldiers’ families at home will not help to combat impatience. The pressure on the War Department here in the United States will be terrific. Countless demands based on conflicting influences, the desire of the single individual of our eight millions, misrepresentation and ulterior motives will be made. Many will be without a solid foundation of fact or logic. The help of everybody, including the ministry at home, will be needed; otherwise the morale of army will suffer, a fatal weakness in war. It does not matter how much an army possesses in quantities of munitions and numbers of men, without morale it is a weak tool without much value. We need the unremitting and understanding support of every chaplain to maintain morale and stimulate the spirit of the army. Their success in this great service will be a triumph for the Corps of Chaplains.

The thought has just occurred to me that the influence of the chaplains might be amplified by giving them temporarily several really qualified assistants. Since the fighting will be finished in Europe, the manpower problem will not present quite the usual obstacle. It may be a good idea, worth looking into. A chaplain might use a half-dozen picked men with profit. They would have to be carefully selected or more antagonism than good would result.

I do not want you to think my view of the Chaplain Corps has been based on abstract or theoretical considerations. It is based on concrete or definite experiences, sometimes exciting and often amusing.3 I am deeply interested in results. The problem now before us concerns me deeply. It gives you an opportunity to render a great service beyond that ordinarily conceived for your cloth. I am quite certain you will succeed in rendering this service to the army. The difficulty will be to gain a real understanding of the complex tasks that lie ahead, and getting across to the millions of men concerned some conception on their part of that understanding.

While we are here together with Chaplain Arnold, I should like to express my gratitude to him and my high regard for the tremendous job he has accomplished during his long years of service as Chief of your Corps, and for his outstanding personal efficiency. I am very glad it has so developed that I can arrange to have him at least for the present as my immediate personal representative in the Inspector General’s Department regarding all matters pertaining to the religious activities or responsibilities of the army.4

Before this present conflict, the Inspector General was occupied largely with inspecting accounts, administration, personal delinquencies, and matters of that kind. As soon as we approached the first phase of mobilization, I had the Inspector General take in men suitable for inspecting construction and production matters, hospitalization, training, etc. The duties of the Department were diverted largely into those channels. As mobilization progressed and Selective Service was initiated, I had a general officer of the Medical Corps assigned to the Inspector General’s Department. That provided an overall inspection service under the Chief of Staff for all medical matters. The same idea was being carried out along other lines—production, camp construction, Selective Service operations. The regular bureau of department organization does not always foster a fully balanced insight into the general problems of the army. In times of great activity it must be possible to have a quick over-all inspection made along any line.

It is possible now we have the services of Chaplain Arnold, who has been freed of the time-consuming work and responsibilities of the administration of the Corps. He can travel and determine for me what is occurring in the Chaplains Corps all over the world. I hope he likes his task. I know his observations will be very helpful.

Can you think of anything I have said that might confuse these gentlemen, or anything else I might say?

CHAPLAIN ARNOLD: Nothing, sir.

GENERAL MARSHALL: Thank you, gentlemen, for your cordial reception and attention.5

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed transcript.

1. General Marshall edited his address, which was recorded by a stenographer, and authorized this version for distribution to army chaplains. (Chaplain Luther D. Miller Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, May 21, 1945, and Pasco Memorandum for the Chief of Chaplains, June 6, 1945, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 353].)

2. “The time has come now to see that chaplains maintain the same level of efficiency that is demanded of all the other arms and services,” General Marshall wrote to General McNarney in August 1942. The chief of staff wanted to establish a general understanding that “local commanders and those above them will consider themselves responsible for the effectiveness of the chaplain organization, just as they must in regard to tactical or administrative and supply organizations.” (See Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-272 [3: 293-94].)

3. General Marshall recalled observing a Decoration Day ceremony in Tunisia conducted by the chaplain, who was tone deaf. “It [the singing] was a very agonizingly pathetic performance, added to which the men were in deep column, so that only a few were close enough to hear anything. Above all, they were facing the setting sun—it was square in their eyes—and it was not a cool day. . . . At the end of the ceremony, I took over and faced the men away from the setting sun and had them sit down, and then gave them a talk describing what was going on with the American forces in the various portions of the world, trying to take the curse off part of this miscast ceremony.” (Marshall Interviews, pp. 323-24.)

4. For background information regarding Chaplain Arnold’s transfer to the Inspector General’s office, see Marshall Memorandum for General Handy, February 21, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-039 [5: 54-55].

5. “Your talk to the supervising chaplains made a profound and lasting impression,” Chaplain Arnold wrote from the Inspector General’s office. “Two remarks were typical—`What a fine Bishop the General would be’, and `God bless Marshall and keep him with us to the end’.” (Arnold to Marshall, April 6, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)

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. 128-132.

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