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To General Dwight D. Eisenhower
November 1, 1944 Radio No. WAR-55663 Washington, D.C.
From Marshall for Eisenhower’s eyes only.
I have just had a conversation with General Hilldring in which he makes the proposal that supply matters and combat troops reactions to supply services would be greatly improved if some general officers rode the line of supply, boat, rail and motor, more frequently instead of as is the usual time-saving practice of flying from point to point. He cited a number of instances of the reactions of RCT [regimental combat team] commanders and others to conditions on the ground under control of colonels as a rule, on the lines of communication.1
I take this up with you first on the basis that you will not even mention it to Smith and others, and second because he is stating what I personally stated to General McAndrew in 1919. I fought a heavy fight against the SOS treatment of soldiers and conditions on the line of communications and made particularly the point that general officers were unaware of the conditions because the star on their car freed them from any complications of movement and the outrageous conditions that existed with RTO [Railway Traffic Officer] officers and at various points in France continued without their knowledge. Most of them would have been settled in a day by a man with authority. Hilldring’s comments so exactly parallel my reactions in France in the old days that I am quite certain his suggestion is of great importance. I don’t think you can get your cure by a single officer like Bonesteel but I do think that your G-4 generals and some others should be required to travel on the ground as a colonel does with sufficient frequency to know what is happening.
Please do not be irritated by the views of a visiting fireman and also please do not explain to me that you are not irritated. Just don’t answer this message.2
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the Operations Division (OPD), Top Secret Message File CM-OUT-55663, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Document Format: Typed radio message.
1. Marshall told his authorized biographer in 1956: “I was much concerned at the reports I got from a few trusted officers of what was happening in the rear areas of General Eisenhower’s command. . . . And I sent a very splendid officer [Hilldring] over to France, and because he had trouble with his heart, he was not allowed to fly. So he motored through the rear areas and the minute he came back, he gave me this terrible report on the conditions he found.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 532.)
2. Eisenhower replied: “All right, I won’t answer your message. But, it sounds like a darned good idea.” (Papers of DDE, 4: 2277.) Eisenhower followed this with a November 6 letter to his senior American commanders citing soldiers’ complaints and making recommendations for closer supervision, including the directive that “General officers frequently make trips by road rather than by airplane,” that their vehicles not show the stars of their rank, and that “defects noted should be corrected on the spot.” (Ibid., pp. 2291-92.)
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. 646-647.