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To Lieutenant General Walter Krueger
October 30, 1941 Washington, D.C.
Personal and Confidential
My dear Krueger:
A list of proposed nominations was submitted to the President yesterday. Whether or not it will be approved I do not know. On the list was the name of Colonel Johnson for promotion to the grade of brigadier general.
I had your note expressing the possibility that you might be able to recommend him for promotion about December 1st.1 When I first submitted this list, his name was not on it nor the name of any other National Guard officer. The Secretary of War made the point that if it were possible to include the name of a single National Guard officer in this list, it would be very helpful at this time.2 We canvassed the Army through GHQ, and but two names were suggested, Johnson and a colonel of coast artillery in Alaska. The latter has been quite outstanding, so the two were included.3
The situation is approximately this: We have public backing for the improvement of leadership by the relief of officers from command who in our opinion are not up to the desired standard. However, as I will refer to later, there have been, as was to be expected, so many allegations of a relentless attitude on the part of the Regular Army with favoritism to their own people, and more particularly charges that our methods have been unnecessarily brusque or brutal, that the reaction has been building up in many quarters a feeling of opposition that might easily be capitalized in an unfortunate investigation. The Merry-Go-Round article regarding the relief of Army Commanders added greatly to the embarrassment in this matter.
I have been able to maintain our position in these matters, but it grows more and more difficult because a flood of political pressure would break loose the minute a line of attack can be found. The relief of General Birkhead and General Pyron produced a very serious reaction in important circles. Jesse Jones, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation Director and Secretary of Commerce, was deeply concerned in this matter; also Senator Connally, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
What I am leading up to is this: Everyone had been educated to the point of accepting the necessity for drastic changes in command, but what has weakened my hand has been the method of its application. In the minor details it would seem that there could have been better handling. The two Texas reliefs have given rise to serious criticisms, however incorrect, that little courtesy was shown these officers; that they received their notice, in one instance in the middle of the night, and in the other instance, General Pyron, while on a march, and in such a way that he thought he was being put in arrest, and there was some doubt as to whether he would even have time to change his clothes. I do not know just what happened, but I do know that I have had to defend our procedure to the Secretary of War, to the Under Secretary of War, and to others who have heard these reports.
I might discount them on the basis that there was sure to be a super-critical attitude on the part of the men being relieved. However, General Bryden and I have been much disturbed in the cases of General Greely and of General Collins. Both of these men assert that they had no intimation that they were judged so unsatisfactory as to be considered for relief, until they were notified from the War Department.4 If this is so, the procedure is entirely wrong. It should not be left to me to notify these people that they are unsatisfactory.
I do not know George Strong’s side of the case, nor yours, but I feel very definitely that in both instances these officers should have been told directly what the trouble was, both before the final decision was made, and certainly when the final decision was taken.
Whenever it is possible to handle matters for the individual so as to spare him humiliation by delay of a week or two in announcement, even if he steps out of command, or by ordering him to some other point ostensibly for some other purpose, such action should be taken. A tactless or brutal procedure that might be excused on the battlefield, if pursued in times of peace like these, will wreck us in our vital purpose of improving the leadership of the Army.
I am sending General Haislip down to talk to you and General Lear about the situation.
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed letter signed.
1. See Marshall to Krueger, October 11, 1941, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-570 [2: 636-38].
2. Concerning this episode, Secretary Stimson noted in his diary: “When Marshall submitted to me the other day a new list of General Officers in the shape of promotions, I found there were no National Guard Officers among them and I sent it back with the message that I thought that it had better wait until we had some National Guard Officers to include in it. This morning he came in with General McNair to discuss the matter and tell me the reason. McNair told me his views. He is the man who has had charge of the training of the forces and of the recent maneuvers. The demands of the war of movement which we have got to face are such that it takes a man who is so trained that the right decision and the right movement come to him as a matter of habit—he is necessary to meet the situation. This is McNair and Marshall’s argument. The National Guard Officers have not yet got that and as a result, although they have tried and have considered several of them, there were none that they could recommend as being as good as the competing Regular Officer who could be had in their place. The situation, as they pointed out, has completely changed from the last war in that now the Generals of Divisions, the Generals of Corps, and the Generals of Armies have got to have a much more active post and position than they had in the last war. When the Division Commanders went into the line in the last war they were hedged on both sides by veterans and they didn’t have much to do but to sit in their chateaux in the rear of the lines and pass on very small matters. Then, furthermore, Marshall told me something that I had not known—that whereas the progress of the Army Schools had not gone very far at the time of the last war, now they for twenty years have been putting in very intensive training at Leavenworth and the Army War College and the other schools which has produced a far higher grade of proficiency in the part of the Regular Officers. Apparently the strain of these schools has been terrific. Marshall told me that at one time it was such that it produced a series of suicides at Leavenworth which was so serious that they had to close the school; in other words, the men were under such strain, and competitive feeling that they were killing themselves. The result is now that both these men, Marshall and McNair, think that we would not be doing our duty to the soldiers if we did not put them under the very best Division Commanders and from Divisions up, now. Later perhaps there will be some National Guard Officers now in the position of Regimental or Brigade Commanders who will then be fit for the higher posts but at present they are not as adequate as competing Regulars. Well, we went over the list and I again pressed my point. Perhaps they may be able to find one National Guardsman who they think will be fit to go up from a Brigade to a Division Commander.” (October 27, 1941, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 35: 165-66].)
3. Lieutenant General McNair had reluctantly recommended Colonel Harry H. Johnson (112th Cavalry) and Colonel David P. Hardy (250th Coast Artillery) for promotion. “I fail to see the wisdom of promotions such as these,” he added, “when one ponders the welfare of the Country and of the troops commanded. I believe that a citizen officer in general should be content to reach the highly responsible grade of colonel, and that the high command should be by selected professional soldiers.” (McNair Memorandum for General Marshall, October 24, 1941, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 15102-893].)
4. Krueger had ordered Major General John N. Greely replaced as commanding general of the Second Division; Major General George V. Strong, who had commanded the Eighth Army Corps since May 1941, had ordered Brigadier General Leroy P. Collins replaced as commanding general of the Eighteenth Field Artillery. (Greely to Marshall, October 21, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected]; Statement of Brigadier General Leroy P. Collins Regarding Relief from Command of 18th Field Artillery Brigade, October 18, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)
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. 655-657.