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Speech to the Graduating Class,
United States Military Academy
May 29, 1942 [West Point, New York]
I appreciate the honor of being here this morning, but I would like you young men to have a sympathetic realization of the fact that it is an obviously dangerous business for a soldier to make a speech these days. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity to talk for a few moments to you First Classmen on your day of graduation, and to the other members of the Corps who will carry the flag after you have gone.
Two weeks from now you join a great citizen-army. In physique, in natural ability, and in intelligence, the finest personnel in the world. In their eagerness to work, to endure, and to carry through any missions, they are all that could be desired of soldiers. They but require the modern tools of their profession, the support of the people back home and, most of all, understanding leadership. Preparation for that task of leadership has been the purpose of your course at the Military Academy.
Your predecessors have usually endured long years of slow promotion. They have suffered professionally from our national habit of indifference to military precautions. You will enter the service under quite different circumstances. Your opportunities will be great and they will come soon, but your responsibilities will be far greater and more immediate.
In a few days you will find yourselves among thousands of officers who have recently won their commissions in a rigorous competition unique in the annals of our army. These officers are splendid types. They understand from personal experience the tasks, the duties and the daily problems of the private soldier. They have received intensive training in the technique of weapons and in minor tactics. They won their commissions because they proved conclusively in a grueling test that they were leaders, and that they had the necessary intelligence and initiative. Already they are familiar with the concentrations and movements of large masses of men. Many of them have participated in maneuvers which extended over a period of months and involved hundreds of thousands of troops operating over tremendous areas, covering in one instance an entire state. In other words, you will be in fast company; you are to join virile, highly-developed forces. You will meet the citizen-soldiers of America at their best and, by the same token, you will have to work very hard to justify your heritage.
Within the past three years our military establishment has undergone a tremendous growth. When I became Chief of Staff, the active Army consisted of 175,000 men and 12,000 officers. Today it numbers almost as many officers as it formerly did soldiers. During the past four weeks alone it has been increased by 300,000 men, and this expansion will continue until by the end of the year there will be nearly four-and-a-half million in the ranks.
A large part of this expansion is taking place within the Air Forces. In spite of the high speed with which it must be accomplished, we know that our pilots represent the flower of American manhood, and our crews the perfection of American mechanical ingenuity. These men come from every section of the country, and pilots have been drawn from almost every college and university in the land. No finer body of men can be found. They are consumed with a determination to carry the fight into Germany and Japan—the same determination that inspired Jimmie Doolittle and his gallant band. Yet splendid as is this personnel, a unified Air Force should have a proportion of officers whose viewpoint, moulded by four years in the Corps of Cadets, includes a full understanding of those military intangibles which are epitomized in the motto of the Corps. Here, then, is one of the most important reasons for the introduction of a flying course into the Academy’s curriculum. Last Spring I insisted upon the re-arrangement of courses in order that our new Air Force should include as soon as possible a larger number of commissioned flyers imbued with the traditions and standards of West Point.1
The path we have followed in preparing the Army during this emergency has not been an easy one. It has not been traversed overnight, and it has been up-hill all of the way. During the period prior to Pearl Harbor, my most difficult task was to progress with the mobilization and training of the Army despite the confusion, to express it mildly, that was spread throughout the ranks by a nation-wide debate regarding the necessity for organizing such an Army, as to whether or not there was an emergency which justified it, and as to what our national policy should be.
Current events remind me of questions which were put to me by members of Congress prior to December 7th, as to where American soldiers might be called upon to fight, and just what was the urgent necessity for the Army that we were endeavoring to organize and train. In reply I usually commented on the fact that we had previously fought in France, Italy, and Germany; in Africa and the Far East; in Siberia and Northern Russia. No one could tell what the future might hold for us. But one thing was clear to me, we must be prepared to fight anywhere, and with a minimum of delay. The possibilities were not overdrawn, for today we find American soldiers throughout the Pacific, in Burma, China, and India. Recently they struck at Tokio. They have wintered in Greenland and Iceland. They are landing in Northern Ireland and England, and they will land in France.2 We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.
The state of the public mind has changed. Many of those who were in confusion have come to a clear conclusion as to what we must do. Our people, solidly behind the Army, are supporting wholeheartedly every measure for the prosecution of the war. The calm and the fortitude with which they accept the vicissitudes that are inevitable in a struggle that goes to the four corners of the earth are very reassuring. And our greatest reassurance comes from the courage and fortitude of the wives and parents of those who fought to the last ditch in the Philippines.
I do not know of anything which has impressed me so much with the present implacable state of mind of the American people as the letters I received from the wives and mothers of those men in the Philippines who went down in the struggle, either as casualties or prisoners. Their heroic messages of fortitude and resolution are an indication of the fact that this struggle will be carried to a conclusion that will be decisive and final.
Your utmost energy, aggression, and effort, backed by high and unselfish purpose, will be required to bring this struggle to a triumphant conclusion. There is no possible compromise. We must utterly defeat the Jap and German war machines. You will notice I omit Italy.
It is on the young and vigorous that we must depend for the energy and daring and leadership in staging a great offensive.
I express my complete confidence that you will carry, with a proud and great resolution, into this new Army of citizen-soldiers at their American best, all the traditions, all the history and background of your predecessors at West Point—and may the good Lord be with you.3
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Speeches, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed draft.
1. On Marshall’s arrangement for flight training for U.S.M.A. cadets, see Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-109 [2: 144-5], and Marshall to Snyder, March 25, 1942, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-145 [3: 148-49].
2. At this point the new officers responded with a rousing ovation. (New York Times, May 30, 1942, p. 1.)
3. During the presentation of diplomas and commissions, Marshall singled out the son of Major General Alexander M. Patch, announcing to the audience that “his father is in New Caledonia,” and the son of Brigadier General Edgar B. Colladay, announcing that “his father is in the Aleutian Islands.” The chief of staff also emphasized hemispheric unity as he congratulated new graduate Olmedo Alfaro, son of Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States, Col