4-514 Speech to the American Legion, September 18, 1944

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

Subject: World War II

Speech to the American Legion1

September 18, 1944 Chicago, Illinois

Last September in my talk to the representatives of the American Legion I explained that we had finally reached the point where we could shift our principal efforts from the organization of air and ground Armies to the problem of deploying these vast forces overseas and launching a series of great offensive operations.2 Since then you have followed the prolonged air assault on the continent of Europe, the campaign north through Italy, the landings in France and the forward surge of the Allied Armies to the German frontier, coordinated with the massive attacks of the Soviet forces, followed by the collapse of Finland, Rumania and Bulgaria.

You must also have followed our increasingly rapid advances through the Japanese fortified bases in the Central and South and Southwest Pacific areas, until today the enemy admits to his people the precarious nature of the situation. In the Far East we have only had a small, but an extremely potent force of U.S. ground troops. However, our campaign in the air in that area has been on a constantly increasing scale, especially notable for the tremendous logistical task involved in the movement of supplies over the Himalayas into China. General Stilwell’s development and leadership of a highly effective Chinese striking force were most important factors in the North Burma campaign of the past spring and summer.

During recent months our great advantage over the Germans lay in the quality and training of our men, the abundance and excellence of their equipment and the skill displayed by higher commanders and staffs in the handling of divisions, corps and armies. The fact that the now historic breakthrough to the south and east and finally to the northeast of Patton’s Third Army was carried out by three Army corps which had never before been engaged in battle is evidence of the quality of our leaders and the soundness of the training given the troops. The large scale maneuvers in Louisiana and in the desert region of southeastern California, as well as in other parts of the country, declared an amazing dividend in the dramatic liberation of France.

Few people, I am sure, comprehend what is involved in the deployment of our 8-million-man Army. The missions of the Air Forces called for approximately 1,000,000 men and 1,000 squadrons overseas. The deployment of this vast force was completed in May. In addition there are newly formed squadrons for the operation of the already famous B-29 bombers which are carrying the war to the Japanese homeland.

Of the ground Army more than 60 divisions have reached the front, thoroughly trained, equipped, and most of them already battle-tested. But an even greater strength in Corps and Army combat troops as well as service units totaling more than 2,155,000 officers and men, accompanied these divisions abroad. The movement of additional troops overseas goes forward in a constantly increased flood of both men and materiel. Eight divisions sail this month.

The deployment of our air and ground forces literally around the globe involves a monumental undertaking in transportation and supply. The Air Transport Command alone has more than 110,000 men engaged in the operation of 135,000 miles of air supply systems. The Army Transportation Corps employs 1600 ships in moving men and supplies overseas. Then there is a continuing and constantly increasing burden for the maintenance of food, clothing, and medical services and for the replacement of battle casualties and the huge materiel wastage inevitable in campaign. It is no simple matter to supply millions of American soldiers on the fighting fronts and keep them fully equipped and provided with every necessity; nevertheless we are endeavoring to expedite the movement overseas of the remaining combat troops in continental United States.

In planning campaigns we must provide for a myriad of requirements of almost every conceivable description. These greatly influence the timing, the extent, and the character and direction of operations. In a global war of the present stupendous proportions the logistical requirements have ramifications so diverse and so numerous that one has the feeling of picking his way through a veritable maze of obstacles and uncertainties. So far we have been reasonably successful and I believe that we have imposed far greater difficulties upon our enemies. Witness approximately 150,000 Japanese troops cut off from their supplies and withering on the vine, with the same fate now in store for even larger garrisons.

It is very important to keep in mind that we have reached a crucial stage of the war. The size and fury of the attacks must constantly increase. The pressure on the enemy must not be eased for a single moment until his last squad is battered into a state of helplessness.

Today and every day thousands of airplanes flash on missions in advance of our armies. Before dawn tomorrow and every morning until the victory has been won, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers will move forward from comfortless foxholes and bivouacs, sweating in the tropics, chilled or freezing in the damp European fall, to press an unrelenting assault against the enemy. They will go about this duty with a courageous determination to get on with the job, without hesitation over the question of personal safety. It is our duty to make sure that the flow of reinforcements and of munitions keeps pace with their advances.

A conspicuous factor in the sustained successes of the past six weeks has been the steady flow of well-trained men to replace combat losses. Our divisions are kept at full strength from day to day. The losses suffered by battle casualties are usually made good within twenty-four hours and the missing materiel in trucks, tanks and guns is being replaced at the same rate. On the German side of the line, divisions dwindling in strength and gradually losing the bulk of their heavy equipment, always find themselves beset by full American teams whose strength never seems to vary and whose numbers are constantly increasing. These German deficiencies will bring about their downfall if we on this side of the Atlantic see to it that our forces are maintained day in and day out at full strength, and supplied with every possible need. We have a stern duty here at home if our attacks are to surge forward in constantly increasing strength and power during what we all hope are the last hours of this great European conflict. We must let nothing divert our efforts from the great purpose of all these sacrifices of life and expenditures of money. We must remember that the individual soldier will place just as much importance on his life in the final week of the victorious advance as he does today. If the protective covering fire of bombs and artillery is curtailed in any degree because of shortages in supply, there will be a bitter resentment. Recently we were forced to inform the commanders in the field that we could not give them the quantities of bombs and shells they demand, but I am now able to report that production rates have finally risen somewhat and we hope that the rationing of such necessities will soon be unnecessary.3

Recently it has appeared that as our forces have gained positions from which to strike at the heart of Germany and just as they are breaking into the last Japanese outposts, the feeling that an early victory is assured causes certain of our people to relax in the war effort and turn to other considerations. I have complete confidence in the success of our military efforts provided we can have steady backing on this side of the oceans until the cessation of hostilities is actually announced.

I am talking very frankly to you veterans of the Legion because your understanding influence has been of great assistance to me in the past and the War Department is depending on your help to weather the gales of the final fighting in Germany and the rapid transfer of our military power to the Pacific. There is also a very special reason why the young Armies of this war have a right to your strong support in what is yet to come. They have just delivered from the enemy the cemeteries of your heroic brothers in arms who fell in your war; they have given you back your great war memorials and they have redeemed your battlefields—all of them from Belgium and Le Cateau, through Cantigny, Chateau Thierry, Soisson[s] and the Marne Salient, across the plains north of Reims to the awful fields of the Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel. And mark this, they did it for you in the best American manner, at top speed and within a few days’ time. Not satisfied with that, they are about to introduce the American art of war into Germany so that any doubts the enemy may have had regarding our military competence or willingness to fight will be dispelled in an unmistakable and final manner.

War is the most terrible tragedy of the human race and it should not be prolonged an hour longer than is absolutely necessary. Yet it may have been a good thing for the future that our military forces found the opportunity to develop and display their power on the battlefield, so that the would-be tyrants of the future may realize the power of our great democracy and the willingness of its people to defend the great principles of freedom against the wanton destruction at the hands of European dictators or treacherous barbarians of the Pacific.

Finally, I would ask that you keep carefully in mind what I have told you several times in the past and now repeat again, that our power to defeat the enemy with certainty and without the bitter cost of long delays has been largely due to the carefully organized cooperation of the British-American forces under unity of command. This has made possible our great successes, the coordinating of our efforts with the vast campaigns of the Russian armies and the Chinese forces, and has permitted the effective employment of the other Allied forces who bear their portion of the heat of the battle.

For the past year the sole hope of our enemies has been to create dissension in the Allied ranks; and they are still hard at it. Bickering over post-war rights should not be permitted to delay the Armistice or sully the victory. Let’s finish this terrible business as a great team, the greatest the world has ever known, and then resolve the conflicting peacetime interests of our countries with something of the orderly procedure which has enabled us to compose our military differences in the much more difficult business of conducting a global war.

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

Document Format: Typed draft.

1. Marshall flew to Chicago on the morning of September 18, delivered his speech at 1:30 P.M., and returned to Washington that evening. His speech was broadcast over the Mutual Network and printed in the New York Times, September 19, 1944, p. 14.

2. See Marshall Notes for Talk to American Legion, September 21, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-112 [4: 131-33].

3. There had been numerous and continuing shortages of certain types of equipment and ammunition, particularly artillery shells, since the Normandy landings. These resulted from a general slackening of the production effort in the United States, a shortage of port facilities in France, the difficulty of transporting supplies to the front, and administrative errors. In early September, however, there was a brief period of optimism regarding ammunition supply prospects. (Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies, 2: 246-47.) For more on the ammunition shortage, see Marshall Memorandum for Justice Byrnes, September 25, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-524 [4: 603-4].

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. 589-593.

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