3-351 To Lieutenant General John L. De Witt, October 2, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 2, 1942

Subject: World War II

To Lieutenant General John L. De Witt

October 2, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear De Witt:

I have received your several letters, first about the Alaskan situation and yesterday regarding the President’s trip.1

I took the liberty of sending the Alaskan letters to Admiral King. He expressed great appreciation of your frankness and your management of the matter. I told him in an informal note when I sent him the letters that I was not entirely prepared to agree with you as to the retention of Buckner and Butler, also that I thought Admiral Theobald should go. His view was that we should do nothing at the present time, which I accepted.2

My feeling in the matter is that however much you have patched up affairs there is no escaping the fact that Buckner’s reasons were based on lack of faith in Theobald’s willingness to engage the enemy except under conditions so favorable to us that they were unlikely to develop. However much they may have patched up their differences no man can forget such implications.

As to Butler, I feel that he has been carrying out a fine show of leadership in the latter phases of the air operations; however it seems to me that the hazardous nature of the flying in that region is so great that it would be unfair to continue him into the winter in that position.

At the moment I feel that we should seize opportunities, one after another, to effect the changes, but at present to do nothing.3

I have had Operations Division studying your statement regarding the separate Alaskan theater. We have had several discussions of the matter but have not yet arrived at a conclusion.

We were all shocked at the disclosures regarding the difficulty with the crew of the Jefferson in Adak Harbor. The Secretary of War is taking the matter up with the President this morning with reference to a press release, announcing both the Adak operation and including a reference to the Jefferson incident.4

It would appear at the moment that the occupation of Adak and the rapid development of the airfield have had a devastating effect on the Japanese hold in the Aleutians and I should imagine that a three or four day strip of good weather permitting a succession of heavy raids would render their situation almost impossible.

The air operations in the South and Southwest Pacific have looked up tremendously. General Kenney, according to MacArthur and the combat reports we received, has done a magnificent job. The air fighting in the Solomons has been terrific for the Japanese. We are at a loss to explain the reasons for the lopsided results. Quite evidently there has been a deterioration in the Japanese pilots, I suppose due to accumulated losses through the battle of the Coral Sea, Midway and the New Guinea-Solomon contacts.

To revert to Alaska, should not the Engineer officer who accomplished the rapid development of the airfield there receive some recognition, promotion or D.S.M.?5

With warm regards,

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. For background on the leadership problems in Alaska, see Marshall to De Witt, September 3, 1942, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #3-311 [3: 339-41]. The editors have not found De Witt’s letter concerning President Roosevelt’s visit to the West Coast during his September 17-October 1 inspection trip.

2. Concerning his September visit to Alaska to investigate leadership difficulties there, De Witt had written two lengthy letters to Marshall. In one he stated that he had initially told Major General Simon Buckner that he was “in full accord” with the consideration the chief of staff was giving to replacing Buckner. But after conferring with Buckner and Rear Admiral Robert Theobald, and after having them meet together, De Witt concluded that the two men had settled their differences and that, contrary to his previous recommendations, neither man should be replaced. De Witt’s second letter of the same date concerned relations between Theobald and the air commander, Brigadier General William Butler. Theobald recommended that Butler not be replaced. De Witt concurred, observing that his previous assumptions about Butler were wrong and that Butler was doing a good job. (De Witt to Marshall, September 23, 1942, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

In sending De Witt’s letters to King, Marshall observed that he still believed that “there should be a complete change in command” in Alaska, but not until after the operation to clear the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands in the summer of 1943. At that time he would transfer Buckner. “I am also inclined to feel that it would be best to transfer Butler but at a later date than Buckner . . . and at some still later date Admiral Theobald should be transferred.” (Marshall Memorandum for Admiral King, September 28, 1942, ibid.) King returned Marshall’s memorandum with a handwritten note at the bottom: “The more I see of General De Witt the better I like his frankness. Since he reports Theobald as supporting his views about Buckner and Butler, it would seem that a ‘wait and see’ attitude is in order.”

3. In February 1943 Theobald assumed command of the First Naval District (i.e., the shore establishment in New England). Butler remained in Alaska until September 1943, when he was assigned to a command in the European Theater. Buckner did not leave his Alaskan assignment until March 1944, shortly before he assumed command of the new Tenth Army in Hawaii.

4. Secretary of War Stimson recorded in his diary that on October 1 Marshall presented to him a message from De Witt concerning an incident during the landing of army troops on Adak Island. “On September 5th when the cargo ship Jefferson was landing the equipment for our troops on Adak and a supporting Navy destroyer, the Dent, desired to tie up alongside of her in order to refuel, the crew on the Jefferson refused to handle the lines or allow the Dent to come alongside on the ground that it was only 7:15 in the morning and they only worked from 8 to 12 and from 1 to 5. The Captain of the Jefferson stated that he could do nothing about it. The Dent was forced to retire to the open sea and wait until the hour came. Considering the hazards of even such a delay, it is a shocking occurrence. In addition to this, the telegram pointed out that the cargo ships, Jefferson and Griffiths, had taken sixteen and nineteen days respectively to discharge their cargo at Adak evidently in consequence of this union rule of labor.” Marshall wanted Stimson to issue a statement to the press concerning “this labor trouble and its dangers,” but Stimson decided to go to President Roosevelt first, which he did on October 2. (Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 40: 113-14, 116].)

5. Prior to the landings on Adak on August 30, planners had forecast construction times for a usable airfield at sixty to ninety days; army engineers accomplished the task in less than fourteen. (Conn, Engelman, and Fairchild, Guarding the United States and Its Outposts, p. 272.)

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. 3, “The Right Man for the Job,” December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 379-381.

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