1-243 To Brigadier General William H. Cocke, December 26, 1926

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: December 26, 1926

To Brigadier General William H. Cocke1

December 26, 1926 Tientsin, China

My dear General:

Your letter of October 13th regarding my detail as commandant, is much appreciated, and I regret very much that the uncertain course of mail coming to China should have involved me in this long delay in acknowledging your thought of me in connection with this detail. I am sorry that it is not possible for me to accept, as I am already placed in the War College faculty. General Ely cabled to find out if the assignment would be agreeable to me, and as I replied in the affirmative, the matter is settled.

Until recently I have had no plans for the past year as to what duty I would go on my return home. Administrative desk jobs have always been my pet abominations, but with so few regiments and so many lieutenant colonels, one has little choice. The head of the Infantry School at Benning wanted me to go there in 1924 as Assistant Commandant, but I was intent on serving with a regiment on foreign service. Later he wrote to me ragarding my detail there on returning home, but before his letter arrived he had been transferred and a new commandant installed in his place. Since then I have heard nothing further about the job. General Ely had asked for me at the War College in 1923 and 24, and now that he has again been good enough to express a desire for my services and I have agreed to go, I would not care to attempt a change, particulary as I am not even a graduate of the War College.

One portion of your letter I do not understand. You expressed a desire for me to get in touch with the situation at the Institute with a view to future possibilities. From this I am compelled to infer, though I may be entirely off the trail, that you contemplate withdrawing as superintendent and had me in mind as a possible successor. It would be a tragedy for the Institute to have you drop the reins after the wonderful development you have engineered, and I trust there is no possibility of such action on your part. As for me, I would never consider throwing up my army career for the uncertainties of your job, unless financially independent. My ideas and methods would too probably arouse the restricting hand of a board of visitors, and I would never willing place myself in the position of being wholly dependent financially on their good will. As a retired officer, my status would be a little different, but that does not happen to be the case. This may seem a strange point of view for one accustomed to the restrictions of army life. But it has been my good fortune to have had a number of jobs where I could pursue a pretty independent course, at least I did pursue such a course. Fortunately for me, the results usually justified the methods, though some of the ”old boys” seemed to think I was walking the plank, until the seal of approval was stamped on the enterprise. Of course, I made it my business to be as quietly and unobtrusively independent as the work permitted and went always a considerable distance out of my way in order to be considerate of the opinions and persons of the older officers. But this is merely one way of the world.

I am talking very frankly to you of my personal affairs, but I feel that I owe you this frankness in repayment for your expressed interest in me. And I am not unaware that the army holds limited prospects for the officers in my group, as we are barred by law from promotion except by the slow process of seniority. This, however, I think will be altered as the influence of a large group of older officers who have not ploughed very deep or who did not go very far in the war,—as this influence weakens. Congress always lends far more than an ear to “lame ducks” and their cherished and vested rights, and Congress always suspects all others. But as these fellows grow lamer something must be done, even by a reluctant Congress. All this is, of course, most strictly entre nous.

Please be assured that I am deeply appreciative of your desire to have me at the Institute. I will not forget that you remembered me.

My service in China has been delightful, interesting and several times, exciting. Politically it is the most interesting problem in the world today, and the most dangerous. From a military point of view, the service here has been more instructive than any where else in the army these days. This particular regiment has the most remarkably efficient personnel I have ever seen gathered in one group. The officers have all been selected for the detail and the ranks are filled with fine old soldiers. Frequently we find privates who have been regimental sergeants major, and first sergents who were captains and even majors during the war. We have had many contacts with the Chinese troops, some of them fraught with frightful possibilities, but so far we have been able to carry out our mission without provoking the fatal first shot. I think that the ability of every officer to speak Chinese, has saved us. This feature of training out here has grown so important since the rabid change in Chinese feeling regarding foreigners and their governments, that last winter I started classes in Chinese for the men, and we now have a list of about thirty who can talk the language sufficiently to carry on a negotiation regarding their military duties, with the Chinese officers they may happen to come in contact with. We now have more than a hundred soldiers studying Chinese. I can speak far more of this language than I could French at the end of two years in France.

I have already made this reply to your letter a very long affair, but I felt moved to go into some detail in expressing regret that I cannot accept your kind offer. Incidentally, I will make no mention of your having offered me the detail, so you will not be embarassed in offering some other fellow second choice of the position. Mrs. Marshall and her Mother will not mention it in their letters.

They join me in warmest regards to Mrs. Cocke and you, which I might make Xmas greetings today, if they would not be so long in reaching you.

Faithfully yours,

G. C. Marshall, Jr.

Document Copy Text Source: Alumni File, Virginia Military Institute Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Author-typed letter signed.

1. Cocke (V.M.I., 1894) had been superintendent at the Virginia Military Institute since October 1, 1924.

Recommended Citation: The Papers 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. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 298-300.

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