3-273 To Major General Frank R. McCoy, August 10, 1942

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: August 10, 1942

Subject: World War II

To Major General Frank R. McCoy

August 10, 1942 [Washington, D.C.]


Dear Frank:

I feel very apologetic about pressing you for additional duties, particularly as you have had two such extremely trying missions as that pertaining to Pearl Harbor and more recently, the trial of the saboteurs.1 However, as President of the Graduates Association of West Point, and due to the fact that your name is the only one that has been suggested, I am addressing you regarding the possibility, though it is only a bare possibility at the present time, of another job.

I am sending you a number of papers regarding West Point. Briefly the situation is this: While I have refrained from injecting my views into West Point affairs, other than as to the introduction of pilot training, I have resisted urgings to shorten the course to two years, and even to three years. The attached memorandum from General Somervell gives his view of the matter in relation to General Wilby’s statement.2

I turned over Somervell’s comments to General McNarney and he submitted A, B, C, and D, attached.3 However, General McNarney felt considerable reluctance in the matter because it seemed to him that no change to a 3-year course could be effected on an efficient basis without a complete re-orientation of policies and probably a considerable house-cleaning in personnel. Along with this is the further complication that it is now August and any action that would have a bearing on the present First Class would be late in any event, and too late if a general reorganization were attempted.

At the moment, it seems to me that the best course might be to create a board to survey the situation and submit recommendations.

There are certain factors involved that ordinarily would not have to be considered but they are of importance at the present time. One of these is the factor that the cadets graduating under the old system will be completely submerged by the increments bound to be received in the permanent establishment out of the war army. The shortening of the course to three years would only partially remedy this trouble, but only a partial remedy would be possible in any event.

I would appreciate very much your glancing through these papers and then letting me have your very frank advice as to whether or not you think we should proceed further in this business, and if so in what manner.4

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. McCoy had served on the Roberts Commission which investigated the Pearl Harbor attack. He had most recently been appointed by President Roosevelt to head the military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs. (New York Times, July 3, 1942, pp. 1, 3; Newsweek 20 [July 6, 1942]: 30-31.)

2. On July 13 Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell had written to Marshall voicing his opposition to Major General Francis B. Wilby’s (superintendent of the United States Military Academy) recommendations to continue the four-year course of instruction at West Point and to commission all cadets during the war, beginning with the class of 1942, as temporary first lieutenants upon graduation. Somervell proposed that West Point adopt a three-year course for the duration of the emergency, except for the class of 1943 which he proposed would graduate in January 1943, allowing more graduates “to participate in the benefits of battle experience.” Somervell asserted that “to allow West Point to maintain a four year course in the face of the present emergency would result in loss of prestige and good will to that institution.” (Somervell Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, July 13, 1942, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 351.05] .) Still outraged at Superintendent Wilby’s stand, Somervell again wrote to Marshall on July 27 that to continue a four-year course at West Point while the Naval Academy and civilian colleges were reducing their length of time “should bring a blush of shame to every graduate. In effect it would make West Point the safest draft dodgers’ haven for mama’s boys in the country. They won’t help the Army because they will all get out as soon as the war is over. . . . In my opinion the course of action proposed is both stupid and shameful and in lieu thereof we should be at least as eager to have our graduates get into battle as are those from Harvard and Princeton.” (Somervell Memorandum for General Marshall, July 27, 1942, ibid.)

3. Copies of the attachments were not found in the Marshall papers.

4. “I am convinced that West Point should change from its normal four-years course to a three-years course for the duration,” replied McCoy. West Point’s Academic Board had made a recommendation that cadets on graduation for the duration be commissioned first lieutenants, to which the War Department recommended disapproval. McCoy agreed with the Academic Board’s recommendation. McCoy also proposed that “the basic and traditional West Point training and curriculum should be brought into harmony with the sound and recent revolution in organization, and training of the Army—I hope that the Superintendent and the Academic Board will first be given an opportunity to loyally and cheerfully cooperate, and to propose the particular way in which the peculiar problems of West Point in wartime, may best be met.” To achieve this he agreed with the deputy chief of staff’s recommendation that a letter of instructions be sent to the superintendent as to carrying out a three-year course, accompanied by a draft on the organization and curriculum; that the superintendent be “directed to put this plan before the Academic Board as the broad policy of the War Department.” (McCoy to Marshall, August 21, 1942, LC/F. R. McCoy Papers.)

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. 294-296.

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