4-205 To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer, January 19, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 19, 1944

Subject: World War II

To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer

January 19, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]

Dear John,

Katherine showed me your letter to her regarding the possibility of my papers being turned over to the Library of Congress.1 This, I assumed, related to some future date presumably on the completion of my job as Chief of Staff.

Before turning the matter over in my mind in any detail I should like to get your comments on these factors in the matter:

In the first place the major portion of my correspondence pertains to the official files of the War Department. I don’t mean “major” in the sense of numerous letters but rather of the importance of letters. I have followed a practice of almost never writing to a theater commander, to the extent that some of them have been offended because I have not given written answers to their frequent communications. The reason for this has been the wish to avoid any misunderstandings as to what was required. Their instructions are prepared by me and edited in the Operations Division, or the reverse, and are usually transmitted by radio.

The most important matters relate to formal memoranda to the U.S. or Combined Chiefs of Staff, minutes of the various meetings, and numerous hastily dictated memoranda from me to various Chiefs in the War Department—all of which pertains to War Department files.

There is a mass of correspondence with a wide variety of individuals in this country. These would have some future interest but they are on relatively unimportant matters—in the main being merely polite acknowledgments. Their principal interest would be in the reflection of the attitude of people generally to the Army effort, the war effort, or to me personally. These are already filed and indexed in my office. I have had in mind that on leaving here I would leave the file cases so that future correspondence could be largely prepared for me here in the War Department, wherever I might be.

The substance of the foregoing seems to me to be a case of having very little of more than mild human interest to turn over for file in the Congressional Library.

You spoke of the Washington papers.2 The point there was that he did not work for any War Department and therefore his correspondence, other than as collected in his Barrack books, was not on file anywhere.

Now as to my papers prior to coming to the War Department; they are almost nonexistent. I have never kept any but a few selected letters on the principle that if I had many even the choice ones would be lost in the confusion of the mass. Some few letters have been collected by Katherine and pasted in a scrap book; they go back some distance into my earlier career, but they would not number more than twenty or thirty in all and are letters to me, not from me.3

Faithfully yours,

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

Document Format: Typed letter.

1. Palmer, a consultant in military history for the War Department who had an office at the Library of Congress, had written to Mrs. Marshall that he, along with the librarian, believed that General Marshall’s papers should eventually be deposited in the Manuscripts Division for future historians and biographers. “I feel that all our future is being shaped in the great activities of today and I see now, as posterity will appreciate more and more, that George is one of the most influential and potent actors in this greatest of all world dramas,” wrote Palmer. “He leads his fellow actors in intellect and genius but his dominating influence, like Washington’s, is in the field of character—the selflessness to which Mr. Stimson referred. The day will come when this dominating but lovable personality will be of supreme interest to historians and biographers and they will seek its manifestations in every letter or memorandum that he ever wrote.” (Palmer to Katherine Marshall, January 18, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) Palmer was referring to Secretary of War Stimson’s reference to General Marshall which had been published in the January 3, 1944, issue of Life magazine. “I have watched his every act; and I can tell you he is one of the most selfless men I ever met,” Stimson was quoted. (Barnett, “General Marshall,” p. 51.)

2. “It is, perhaps, my four years study of the `Washington Papers’, that makes me appreciate the great importance of what I am writing to you,” Palmer had written to Mrs. Marshall. “In my knowledge of `Washington’ derived from his intimate personal letters as well as his state papers I find always the ‘selflessness’ that Mr. Stimson attributes to George. But G.W. was almost entirely devoid of the sense of humor that G. M. always carries with him and even G.W. was not entirely free from the ‘God Almighty complex’ from which G. M. is so amazingly free.” (Palmer to Katherine Marshall, January 18, 1944, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

3. “Make no decision now,” Palmer replied, “except that when the proper time comes you will consider the Library of Congress as a possible custodian for such historical and biographical material as you may have. The appraisal of what you have and every other detail can wait until you doff your uniform and settle down as a country gentleman at Leesburg.” (Palmer to Marshall, January 26, 1944, ibid.)

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. 239-241.

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