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To W. O. Edwards
November 15, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]
Dear Mr. Edwards:
I have delayed replying to your letter concerning the death of your son until the case could be looked into thoroughly.1
I find that your son received the complete training course given to all replacements before they are sent overseas. Upon completion of the prescribed training all these men are given tests to determine if they have satisfactorily completed the training. The fact that your son was sent overseas indicates that he met all the standards which are based upon lessons we have learned in combat in this war. While replacements are not fully seasoned soldiers when they go overseas, we feel that they are adequately trained to take their places in seasoned units. Reports from overseas commanders in every theater substantiate this position. The success of our armies all over the world has been due in considerable measure to the high caliber of replacements and to the fact that our units are thereby kept constantly up to full strength.
You refer to the large number of fully trained soldiers remaining in this country. This charge is not justified. Over a year ago instructions were issued that every man in the Army who was physically qualified for overseas duty and had not been overseas was to be assigned to a combat zone as a matter of first priority. Exceptions were granted only in the cases where release of these men from assigned duties would be detrimental to the organization because of some special skill or training, this referring principally to flying and special equipment instructors. As a result of a vigorous follow through on this program, there are relatively few fully trained, physically qualified soldiers remaining in the United States except those in units which are scheduled for early sailing.
I share your dissatisfaction concerning the lack of information you have received on the circumstances surrounding your son’s death. It is regretted that when the notice of the death of a soldier in action goes out more details cannot be given, but the confused situation normally incident to front line activities and the burden on our limited communication facilities make it impossible for full information to be sent by radio. Up until a few months ago we depended upon the initiative and the judgment of the unit commander and the chaplains to write parents of soldiers who had died overseas. I have recently directed these letters be made mandatory and undoubtedly you will receive in the near future a communication from your son’s company commander or his chaplain giving all the information available. However, this must be taken into account: casualties among company officers of infantry are very high; the situation during continuous fighting remains very confused, and rearrangements for almost daily attacks as well as life in foxholes and under limited cover present great difficulties to platoon, company and battalion commanders in writing the desired letters to parents or wives.
While I realize there is little I can say to relieve your grief in the loss of your son, I want you to know that the War Department has left no stone unturned in its efforts to fully train its soldiers, provide them with the best possible equipment, and take every other step to insure their safety in combat.
Again my deep sympathy and my hope that this letter will help you to realize at least to some extent that your son gave his life not by reason of inadequate training or faulty leadership, but as one of the unfortunate but inevitable results of this terrible war.
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. An Illinois lawyer and a member of the state legislature, Edwards had written to Marshall on October 21 saying that the War Department had twice notified his son’s wife that her husband had been killed on September 17 in Germany. “Your card of sympathy, received yesterday, to the widow was about the last straw.” Edwards complained that his thirty-four-year-old son had enlisted in January 1944, was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida (“where they had the most ruthless and inefficient officers that the boys claim there could be found”), received inadequate training, and was sent to France in July. “My family feels that he was actually murdered for lack of sufficient training.” Edwards was displeased that the army had used men like his son as “cannon fodder” while there were “thousands having been trained three years still travelling the railroads in America.” (Edwards to Marshall, October 21, 1944, 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. 666-668.