2-191 To Morris Sheppard, June 5, 1940

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: June 5, 1940

To Morris Sheppard1

June 5, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]

My dear Senator:

I have read some of the criticisms that have been made of the Army Promotion Bill now before the Senate, and I find that a cable of mine on this subject, sent from France to the Secretary of War, has been referred to by the War Department as an argument towards favorable consideration of the current bill. In view of the gravity of the times, and of my personal experience in this matter, I am taking the liberty of submitting a few comments.

Rank means command, and command involves leadership, and leadership in a military emergency is, in my opinion, the most important single consideration. The difficulties of leadership which existed in 1917-18 have been enormously multiplied today by the increased mobility and fire power of modern armies, and the necessity for vigorous commanders is greater now than it has ever been before. I am familiar with the Promotion bill now before your Committee only in the most general terms, but I believe I am sufficiently familiar with military requirements to submit that the passage of this measure is of great importance. Elimination of such basic provisions of the bill as retirement at sixty, and certain similar requirements, would nullify its effectiveness to a large extent. It would be most unfortunate at this critical moment in our history to tie the hands of the War Department with restrictions or amendments calculated to favor a group of senior officers at the expense of their juniors on whom we must largely depend for leadership in every phase of training and possible mobilization, as well as for troop command, and certain to embarrass the War Department in the heavy task of administering our military system.

I apologize for intruding my views in this matter, particularly as I have not studied the bill; but my belief in the importance of such a measure at this time must be my excuse for taking this liberty. As a matter of fact my criticism of the bill would be that in the present situation the retirement feature should become effective immediately rather than two years hence.

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. Marshall wrote this letter for John J. Pershing’s signature. On April 4 the War Department sent to Congress a new version of its long-sought officers’ promotion bill (H.R. 9243). The bill proposed that length of service-in-grade be considered as important for promotion and that the limits on the maximum number of officers in a specific grade be removed, except on colonels. The objectives were to place an upper limit on the time an officer could spend in a grade without promotion, to eliminate the “hump” of officers in field grades which resulted from the World War expansion, and to reduce the retirement age (effective July 1, 1942) to sixty years for officers below brigadier general. The effect of this would be to retire numerous older majors and colonels and to speed promotion for younger officers.

The House passed the bill with little dissent on April 23, but opposition, particularly to the age of mandatory retirement, developed in the Senate. A Senate-House conference committee removed the Senate’s amendments, but the bill’s opponents carried their fight to the Senate floor. To prevent further delay, perhaps for several months, Marshall signed a letter to Senator Sheppard strongly supporting the bill. One of the bill’s floor managers, Senator Lister Hill (Democrat from Alabama) read the letter printed here during the final moments of debate on June 5. A few days later, Marshall wrote to Senator Millard E. Tydings of Maryland, “I disliked appealing to you at the time—it made me feel a little like a lobbyist, but the issue was so important as a basis for future action, that I felt I should use every effort to secure a favorable decision.” (Marshall to Tydings, June 8, 1940, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].) The bill was passed 61 to 11 on June 5 and signed by the president on June 13.

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. 236-237.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 2-191

Rights: Public Information