4-105 To Harold D. Smith, September 10, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: September 10, 1943

Subject: World War II

To Harold D. Smith

September 10, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]


My dear Mr. Smith:

I have just this moment read your note of September 7th regarding the return to inactive status of officers who have passed retirement age. The reactions you mentioned were anticipated.1

This action was taken by me personally after very careful thought.2 It was made less drastic than originally planned, but General McNarney, my Deputy, the head of the Personnel Section of the General Staff, and the senior officers of the major elements of the Army were unanimous in the opinion that such action not only was necessary but had been too long delayed.

The principal point which usually is not taken into account by critics of the procedure is the fact that the vast majority of the affected officers are of such rank that they of necessity head the various groups, sections or activities in which they serve. Our policy governing the age of officers assigned to duty with troops which has been in effect for two years has caused the transfer of these older officers into the Service Forces. The result is that in the supply services we have not only an accumulation of older and more sedentary officers blocking the advancement of younger and more aggressive men whose vigor, ability and wisdom have been demonstrated, but we have this very able younger leadership dominated by a much slower-moving personnel than the situation permits. These days are too critical and the efforts demanded of us are too vital for us to be hampered by any less than the most vigorous and able leadership and drive that we can provide. With my responsibility for the success of our operations, I cannot temporize in matters of this kind.

In announcing the policy we made it clear that commanders requesting the retention of the over-age officers would be required to submit conclusive and convincing evidence of the outstanding ability of the individual and of the necessity for his retention. It was to be expected that officers affected would condemn the decision, but I do not believe that our instructions are misunderstood or that responsible commanders will fail to ask for the retention of the vigorous and able older officers whose services they feel they must retain. When they do not ask for the retention of an individual, it must be assumed that it is because they cannot submit a really convincing case.

There is a further explanation of reactions in the field that must be taken into account. My greatest difficulty in building up the efficiency of the Army abroad as well as here at home has resulted from the reluctance of higher commanders regarding the removal of contemporaries and other older officers who are slowing down business or lack the vigor and drive required in active operations. These commanders were either reluctant to act or too often in relieving the officer sent him back with favorable statements to soften the blow, leaving to me the embarrassing business of refusing to give the individual the post or command in continental U.S. he thought his services merited. This reaction also finds expression in statements by local commanders in the U.S. to officers concerned that they, the commanders, are merely acting on the instructions of the War Department, when I know that they want to get rid of the men but are unwilling to tell them so.

I also anticipate strong repercussions from certain members of Congress, but I shall have to win that battle as I did the struggle over the selection of commanders, when it meant the relief of less effective individuals.

I am writing you with complete frankness because I have appreciated your support more than I can tell you and I know you always want me to be perfectly frank with you. I do appreciate the spirit in which your note was written.

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. Smith, the president’s budget director, had written: “Several staff members of the Bureau of the Budget who have recently returned from field trips report that the recent War Department order requiring the return to inactive status of officers past retirement age seems to be causing some confusion in the field. Although the order permits retention on active duty of especially competent officers, subject to War Department approval, some field commanders appear reluctant to request such retention, even of those officers they most dislike to lose. It occurred to me that field commanders may have read into the order some meaning not intended by the General Staff, thus causing the inadvertent loss of competent overhead personnel. For this reason I am passing along the general observation for such value as it may have to you.” (Smith to Marshall, September 7, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

2. War Department Circular No. 167, July 22, 1943, listed the reasons for and instructions regarding the new policy of greater restrictions on the call to active duty and retention of retirement-age officers. The circular stated: “Officers will not be retained on active duty upon reaching the statutory age for retirement unless it can be definitely shown that they are physically and mentally capable of vigorous performance of full duty commensurate with their grades, and that their special qualifications for the duty to which assigned are of such character that the best interests of the service require their retention on active duty.”

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. 122-124.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 4-105

Rights: Public Information