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To Major General Edward Croft
February 13, 1935 [Chicago, Illinois]
Acknowledging your note of February 1st, stating you would be glad to have my ideas relative to the handling of the graduating class from West Point, I had this in mind: I was impressed while at Benning by the fact that the magnificent overhead of reservation, facilities, troops and the school faculty, was not utilized to its full capacity. Each year I noted the splendid affect on the young graduates from West Point of a tour with the 29th Infantry. However, when at Fort Screven and Fort Moultrie, I was honestly horrified by the lack of development—if not the actual deterioration—in the young lieutenants who had reported directly from West Point. They appeared to be from another litter than those sent directly to Benning. I had to make it my personal business to attend to the development of these young men.
With this as a background, my conclusion is that if it be possible, the entire infantry cadre from West Point should be sent directly to Benning. A satisfactory arrangement for such assignment did not occur to me until I learned that you had made the 24th Infantry a combat regiment. That addition of infantry troops in training at Benning appeared to make the solution comparatively simple.
I would handle the matter in this fashion: To give continuity of policy and the necessary efficiency for instruction and demonstration, the commanding officers and Plans and Training Officers of the 29th Infantry, 24th Infantry and Tank regiment should have a three-year tour; lieutenant-colonels, the majors, the captains and one first lieutenant in each company, should have two year tours, vacancies alternating. These lieutenants in particular should be picked men from the classes graduating from Benning. I am a little uncertain as to whether young graduates should go directly to the Tank Regiment, but I am inclined to think they should, despite the disadvantages the tank people would advance.
Now, as to the new second lieutenants. The entire infantry list from West Point should report for duty, at the end of furlough, with one of these three units at Fort Benning, one for each platoon. They would find in command of their platoons their predecessors from the preceding class of West Point, who would remain in command of the platoons for the first two months, while the newly arrived officers were “finding” themselves and receiving preliminary schooling.
To start with the newly arrived officer, he should go through his first two months in understudying his predecessor and in following a course in administration, interior economy of the company, military law, etc. At the end of two months he takes command of the platoon. The second in command of the company, especially selected first lieutenant, has the development of these young men as his particular problem. (There might be two of the veteran lieutenants in a tank company). The captain is busy commanding the company and arranging for the necessary school demonstrations. When a platoon is to give a demonstration early in the year and the young lieutenants are not considered sufficiently able for this purpose, the trained first lieutenant could handle the unit, but to meet the certain objections from members of the weapon section of the school faculty I would say, it is not undesirable to have these young men in command of the demonstration sections of the platoons, because they are just about the type who will have to carry out these missions in time of war—except, presumably, they will be far better trained than their war prototypes, however short the time they have been at Benning.
During the year these young men should follow a system of schools—not regimental as would normally be the case—but handled by the school faculty who are much better prepared to do this and would thus relieve the regimental officers of this time consuming feature. The course for these equivalent-to-regimental schools would be carefully determined so as to fit in with another period of schooling, to follow the termination of fourteen months troop duty.
At the end of the first year, September 1st I suppose, these young men would receive the members of the newly arrived increment from West Point. For two months they would have the morale raising pleasure of being the guides and advisors of the more recent graduates. At the end of this period of two months— or a total of fourteen months on troop duty—the young men would be given a three months course in the school. This particular course could be far in advance of what would ordinarily be the case, because the preceding year of regimental schools—though conducted by the school faculty—would have covered a large number of items which we have always had to give the student of the former company course; and the group would be homogeneous, and uniformly prepared for the work.
At the end of this three months school the young officers should all be sent on foreign service where there are plenty of troops, large maneuvers, and definite war problems on ground that a man can see. The completion of the foreign service tour would, to a certain extent, complete the formative period of an officer’s service, all of which would have been under the most favorable circumstances for the development of military ambition—fine troops, excellence of instruction, and impressive military surroundings.
I have never felt that we got anything like the full benefit from the maintenance of the war strength 29th Infantry, or from the concentration of infantry, artillery, tanks, etc., at Benning. The scheme I have outlined would certainly operate the factory more nearly at capacity. When Fuqua was Chief of Infantry I tried my best to feature the Refresher Course in some such fashion, because I thought it highly desirable that a number of leading officers of the Army, particularly of other arms and from those on duty in the War Department and at the War College, should have an opportunity to review the work of the schools and witness the actual operations of the combined arms, such as can only be seen in this country, at Fort Benning. I thought that the Refresher class should consist of from 50 to 60 officers. The additional overhead required for this purpose was two or three old buses and drivers, and about five orderlies. To meet the difficulty about mileage expense, I got General Fechet to agree that he would transport these people by airplane, concentrating them at New York, Washington, Chicago and St. Louis and bringing them on from there by transport plane.1
I wanted the Chief of Infantry to select and invite six or seven of the leading— efficient—National Guard and Reserve officers, men of distinction in civil life, and certain members of the General Staff and a few instructors from the War College. The course to be so arranged that the most interesting part would be during the first ten days, so that the busier members could then return to their duties while the others continued on for the full four weeks. I had the course built up for this specific purpose, and set for the most agreeable and convenient period of the year—November, December—but was never able to secure more than the usual yearly run of colonels enroute to regiments or who had just joined, mostly men too old for my purpose. I was only able to get one or two cavalrymen and no artillerymen or engineers. The trouble seemed to be that they went into the matter rather elaborately, rather as a new policy, and considered all the complications involved. I wanted it done merely as an experiment for one year. If it did not sell itself, then that was just too bad.
If some such scheme as this could have been put through, and I am confident it could have been done, we would now have a large number of officers speaking a common language regarding actual troop operations, all familiar with infantry doctrines and Benning. The larger class could have been handled without practically one hour’s extra work by the school faculty and without the expenditure of any money for additional ammunition, etc.
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As you can see from the foregoing, I am very much of the opinion that the facilities and opportunities at Benning are not used sufficiently either at the bottom or at the top; and, confidentially of course, I think Benning is so far ahead of the other places that it is a shame not to feature it in every way we infantrymen possibly can arrange for. It is rather hard to get this down on paper with all the various details involved and without opportunity to expand on the various difficulties that would be suggested. But I think I have made my idea fairly clear and submit it for your consideration.
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Illinois National Guard, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed letter.
1. Major General James E. Fechet was chief of the Air Corps from December, 1927, until December, 1931.
Recommended Citation: The Papers 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. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 455-458.