4-036 To Robert R. McCormick, July 5, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: July 5, 1943

Subject: World War II

To Robert R. McCormick

July 5, 1943 [Washington, D.C.]

Dear McCormick:

I owe you a very broad apology for my delay in replying to your letter of May twelfth.1 The truth of the matter is that it evidently became attached to some paper here in the office and ended up in a safe for my private correspondence. It was addressed to General R.H. Marshall which might in part account for this regrettable error. However, the address included “Chief of Staff” so the mix-up is not excusable.

As to the subject of your letter, I am not in agreement with you concerning the Army’s use of the high caliber civilian talent that is available. I am inclined to think that you must have seen at the First Division dinner a majority of men who were not with combat units, which was very likely to be the case. There is a marked difference in our approach to the commissioned officer between those for duty with combat troops and those who are being used elsewhere, in the New York Corps Area, for example.

The selection of officers for the combat units is carried out under most strenuous, even dangerous, procedure, and we have had very convincing proof of the quality of leadership obtained in this manner. Utilizing the men of previous war experience has been one of our greatest problems, because, as you know, men change a great deal during a long period of years. Some grow stodgy in the middle forties, others are still active and aggressive mentally in the fifties, and a few others into the sixties, of which I hope I am one but I am none too certain of that. At the same time when we endeavor to deal with a man who has severed all technical military contact for a period of twenty or more years we find ourselves involved in a very difficult readjustment. The British had a bitter experience with this factor and our experience we found paralleled theirs.

In the matter of leadership we have let nothing stand in the way of a proper choice—previous status, civilian, Reserve, National Guard, or what-not, West Pointer or non-West Pointer. The operations in North Africa have furnished conspicuous examples of this policy. I believe one enlisted man landed in Africa in the grade of sergeant and is now a lieutenant colonel through a succession of promotions resulting from efficiency in action. I am not quite certain but the last information we had on this man was that he was a casualty, killed I fear. I find everybody solely intent on getting a capable man. They are not interested in where he came from. They are only interested in what he can deliver.

This is true here in the War Department to a large degree. My principal advisor on personnel matters, an Assistant Chief of Staff, is a National Guard officer. The Chief of the Operations Division is not a graduate of West Point. The G-3 of the War Department is a non-West Pointer. General Somervell’s Army Service Forces of over a million men include a large number of brigadier generals and major generals, picked men from civil life, the finest talent we could get our hands on. So far as the troops are concerned we have been utterly ruthless in eliminating the weak and in selecting the strong. We do not advertise the reliefs from command, the reductions in rank, because this would only humiliate people and stir up unfortunate publicity, but it proceeds without favor, purely on the basis of obtaining the most adequate leadership for the men. I feel very certain that if you saw our units rather than a Corps Area assemblage you would be profoundly impressed.

Incidentally, I was with the First Division in Africa the other day. It is the same hardbitten crew now that it has had a series of battle actions. They were engaged in the old procedure of filling up the ranks, of replacing the casualties, and engaging in very strenuous training in preparation for the next show, whatever that is to be. The Division had the same difficulties of approach that the old First Division had, highly abnormal, and extremely difficult. It is solidly on its feet now and has won the respect and admiration of all who have seen it in action.

Again with my regret for the delay in answering your letter,

Faithfully yours,


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. The Chicago Daily Tribune publisher had served with the First Division during World War I. He had attended the division’s annual dinner on May 8 and reported that he was not impressed with some of the active duty general officers he met there, “I am sure they do not compare in ability with a number of non-commissioned men I know who were taken by the draft in their late thirties, after they had proven unusual and sometimes extraordinary ability. . . . The men I speak about are not allowed to do anything for the army. At most they are clerks. . . . They see around them younger and less able men who knew how to pull the ropes to get commissions. Their previous achievements must be on their induction records and speak much more loudly than marks which may have been given to them by a man of much less stature. The men I speak about will be among the most influential citizens after the war. It seems to me that the welfare of our country today and in years to come will be profoundly affected unless suitable occupation can be found for men of this kind, or unless they can be taken back to civilian life where their talents are needed, and wanted, and they are not used in the army.” (McCormick to Marshall, May 12, 1943, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)

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. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 43-45.

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