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To Major General Walter K. Wilson1
October 7, 1941 [Washington, D.C.]
I received your letter of September 18th, and am glad to know that you have recovered from your injuries. By this time you should be back to normal.
In reply to your comments regarding your services with the Third Army Corps, it is apparent that you do not understand the planning that lay behind the original assignments. In France in 1918, I saw the unfortunate results of corps command by individuals who had never commanded divisions in actual operations. This same lack of divisional knowledge adversely affected the GHQ decisions. So I was determined in this present emergency that corps commanders should have a sound basic knowledge of divisional requirements and operations. In order to do this it became necessary to make assignments which in effect were temporary, of older officers to army corps during the period of basic training, while other officers were organizing divisions and learning the divisional business. It was my desire that the latter officers should have at least one maneuver experience before being chosen for corps commander. The initial corps commanders were to be assigned to positions for which they were especially qualified. Under this policy the changes were made which carried you to the command of the West Coast Defenses.2
There is another angle to this business regarding which I think I should speak very frankly. It must be apparent to everyone with an understanding of the vast military problem on our hands, that I have to go ahead on the basis which seems most likely to produce effective results for the army as a whole, meaning the men in the ranks and the general problem of national defense. My most difficult task is concerned with the higher commands and it is made the more difficult by the benign practices of the old army, where time was of little moment and high command was privileged to the nth degree. I might tell you, and most confidentially, that General McNair’s greatest concern and that of all of his officers is the problem of corps command. That was the greatest lesson of the Louisiana maneuvers, though we have carefully avoided any publicity on the subject. The difficulty flows, of course, from our inexperience in this field; there is a vast difference between theoretical concepts and practical operations, particularly when cast in an unlimited field of activity such as that in Louisiana.
I have written you very frankly, and to a certain extent as indicated, most confidentially. Regarding your own service, there has been no question. General De Witt highly approved of you as a corps commander.3
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, General Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed letter.
1. Wilson had commanded the Third Army Corps between December 1940 and July 1941, when he was relieved and given command of the Ninth Coast Artillery District. He wrote to Marshall on September 18—shortly after completing seven weeks of hospital treatment for accident injuries—to express his disappointment with losing the corps command and to assure the chief of staff: “I shall enter upon my new assignment with as much energy and enthusiasm as I have always shown in my work.” (Wilson to Marshall, September 18, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)
2. Since July 1941 the following corps commanders had been relieved and given new commands: William E. Shedd (First); Henry C. Pratt (Second); Walter K. Wilson (Third); Jay L. Benedict (Fourth); Frederic H. Smith (Seventh). See Marshall to Grant, July 7, 1941, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-504 [2: 561-62].
3. The Third Army corps was a part of Lieutenant General John L. De Witt’s Fourth Army. Marshall wrote on Wilson’s September 18 letter: “The facts were: Gen. McNair was strongly of opinion that the Army corps was not being developed as a tactical unit; that De Witt had been so busy with Alaska that he had somewhat overlooked training necessities. GCM.”
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. 631-633.