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To Lieutenant General Daniel Van Voorhis
January 24, 1941 Washington D.C.
Dear Van Voorhis:
I have been in communication with you by radio and special letters with some frequency of late, but I think it would be well for me to tell you a little of the low-down on what has been happening.
In the first place, the Secretary of War took up directly with the President the question of the air fields. I understand the President was deeply concerned and intent on an early solution being reached without further diplomatic delay. We have awaited the arrival of the new Ambassador here before seeing that this is put over in a hurry. I am in hopes that it will now reach an early conclusion and you can actually get to work.1
As to placing of guards on governmental ships, that grew out of the very embarrassing prospect which is approaching now, but there seemed no other solution. We cannot take any chances with the Panama Canal. If it is blocked, our whole situation in the Atlantic becomes immensely critical should there be a tragic result in England.2
We are having a difficult time in obtaining experienced men in certain branches of the Army, particularly quartermasters. Running one of these huge villages of fifty or sixty thousand men is a difficult matter from the viewpoint of utilities alone. General Gregory is sending some Reserve quartermasters out to Hawaii to relieve certain Regulars there for duty in this country. Nothing has come up with regard to Panama on this particular subject, but don’t you think you could loosen up on some regular quartermasters if we sent you some selected reserve quartermasters or engineers?3
The announcement as to unified command in the Caribbean area was made by the Secretary in a press conference ahead of our reaching definite conclusions. As a matter of fact, he had not known about our intentions until that day. Someone had suggested the item as being interesting for the press, and as they lacked such on that day, the announcement was made.
Please give me your reaction on Prosser. His nomination is now in to be a Major General in view of the size of his command. If there are any men in your outfit that you think are deserving of promotion, please let me know informally and directly. Devers has gone a long way since he left your place. He is now a Division Commander, and making a fine job of it. We want to find more men of the same type, and I am willing to go down the list quite a way to get them.4
Your management of affairs in Panama is a source of great assurance to me. It is very comforting to feel that you are at the helm.
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. Secretary of War Stimson discussed the airfields question with the president on January 9. In his diary, Stimson characterized the Panamanian government as “unfriendly,” and it was “refusing to give us, or delaying in giving us, the emergency landing fields and airdromes that we want in different parts of the Republic. All the planes which are necessary for the defenses of the Canal are crowded together in three small airdromes in a very small space and would be at the mercy of a sudden attack from the air.” (January 9, 1941, Yale/ H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 32: 94].) On the developments in Panama, see Memorandum for the Secretary of War, March 24, 1941, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-401 [2: 452]. The new ambassador from Panama, Don Carlos N. Brin, presented his letters of credence on January 17. (Department of State Bulletin [January 18, 1941]: 99-100.)
2. Following a meeting at the White House on January 16, Marshall directed the War Plans Division to draft instructions to Van Voorhis to place armed guards on all public vessels transiting the Panama Canal. This was done, cleared with the State Department, and sent the next day. (Gerow Memorandum for the Record, January 17, 1941, NA/RG 319 [OPD,Exec. 4, Item 5].)
3. Van Voorhis replied that although he had two new stations needing quartermasters, a survey of his staff determined that four field-grade officers could be spared for duty in the continental United States. (Van Voorhis to Marshall, February 2, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
4. Brigadier General Walter E. Prosser (U.S.M.A., 1905), commander of the Panama Mobile Force, would not “fit into the situation here if, by reason of seniority, he should become Department Commander,” Van Voorhis wrote. Brigadier General Jacob L. Devers had served on the presidential board for the selection of air and naval bases in the Atlantic until becoming commanding general of the Ninth Division and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on October 9, 1940. Closing out his letter to Marshall, Van Voorhis listed several officers that he considered worthy of promotion and elaborated on their qualifications. (Ibid.)
Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr.(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 396-398.