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To Major General George A. White
May 16, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
Most confidentially, I want your suggestions and your advice.1
The question of the return of the National Guard units to the states on the completion of twelve months’ service is now a matter of urgent importance. I am told that the present uncertainty has a number of unfortunate effects, among which is a let-down in the training program, also, and more serious, a rather natural reluctance on the part of commanding officers to go ahead with the reclassification of officers in view of expected return to home communities.
I understand that a number of men of high position in civil life, who are completely willing to give their all for the national defense, are not especially agreeable to the prospect of continuing in the service if there is not urgent need for their continued contribution. Young men in the ranks, I am told, feel that after twelve months of service—unless there is a full emergency— they would be glad to take advantage of the plentiful jobs and the high pay now available in industry.
Confidentially, I think the matter, so far as an immediate announcement is concerned, will be determined more on the basis of political or public reactions than on the details which concern us in the Army, and which seriously affect morale. In other words, the question would be one of the advisability of a request on Congress at this particular time by the President to extend the period beyond twelve months. Will this provoke a reaction adverse to his present policies, and if not, should the extension be for an indefinite period, or for a year or for, say six months—the last on the assumption that certainly we will know a great more about the necessities of the situation next March.
Should, for example, the President merely announce that he contemplates asking for an extension?2 What would be the effect of a statement at this time that the Guard is to be returned home at the completion of a year’s, service, in other words, that no request is to be made for an amendment to the law? The public reaction, what would that be to the present situation? The Guard reaction, what would that be with the uncertainty as to whether or not this statement could be finally carried out?
I would appreciate your writing me very frankly your views in the matter. I will treat them as confidential.3
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. White commanded the National Guard’s Forty-first Division. Marshall sent similar letters to Major Generals Edward Martin and William S. Key.
2. See Memorandum for the President, July 16, 1941, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-509 [2: 567].
3. White replied to the chief of staff: “I believe that a Presidential request on congress to extend the period of service of the civilian components will be accepted as the inevitable and only possible course.” White noted that the public would expect the extension following the president’s May 27, 1941, declaration of an unlimited national emergency. The Forty-first Division had listened to Roosevelt’s radio address, “We Choose Human Freedom,” which announced the emergency. “The opinion everywhere among the men was that the situation now was so grave that any thought of going home in September was out. It seemed to me that the transformation among them was definite, a stiffening of fiber, an acceptance of reality, the end of any doubt that this is serious business.” (White to Marshall, May 29, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
Key supported an extension of the Guard’s service, but wanted a definite time period specified. Martin held a similar view, advising an extension until March 1942. (Key to Marshall, May 20, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General]; Martin to Marshall, May 19, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)
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. 507-508.