5-053 To William E. Hess, March 5, 1945

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: March 5, 1945

Subject: World War II

To William E. Hess1

March 5, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]

Dear Mr. Hess:

I have carefully reviewed your response of 28 February to my letter of the preceding day. As I understand your letter, it raises three major points—first, that the War Department is on record as having assured the Congress that 18-year-olds would receive at least a year’s training before going overseas; second, that our present replacement training system does not provide 18-year-olds with adequate military preparation for combat duties; and, third, that older and fully trained soldiers here should be used as replacements instead of 18-year-olds.

As for the War Department’s previous comments on this subject, the War Department testimony at the hearings you cited unquestionably establishes our position in opposition to a statutory training limitation. I also recall statements by General [Miller G.] White, then Chief of the General Staff Personnel Division, that no assurance was possible that soldiers of any age group would receive a minimum of a year’s training before proceeding overseas. If you wish, I shall have an officer visit you in your office with a marked copy of the hearings which will reveal the War Department’s position to have been that any such restriction on Army training would be impossible of administration. In this connection I do not think it could be maintained that the remarks of Generals Reckord and Devers in 1941, five months before our entry into the war, should be accepted as the governing criteria for conducting replacement training at the present time.2 Both these men are able officers but at that time they were expressing general views of their own and neither one of them was a member of the War Department General Staff. Furthermore, to accept as determining views of this nature expressed at that time would be to ignore all the combat experience we have gained and techniques we have developed during the past three years. Also, their remarks were predicated upon the peacetime concept of unit training, not the wartime replacement training to which your correspondence refers. What may be successfully demanded of soldiers in time of peace in the way of training is quite different from what may be required as a matter of course today when they work without regard to hours and accept the hardships without question.

As for the adequacy of our training, the system is based, as I have just indicated above, upon an extensive military experience specifically related to the present war. Furthermore, most of the training is now in the hands of men who have had recent combat experience. In my opinion, the present system is adequate and I have personally inspected replacement training camp after camp to make certain that the work was being conducted in the most efficient manner practicable. Of course, one must keep in mind that we are training men to be placed in seasoned veteran units where the leadership from the noncommissioned grades upward is in the hands of veterans.

The impression has been developed that there are many other soldiers in continental United States who are available for combat assignments overseas in lieu of these younger men. The facts will not bear this out. So long as we had divisions in training in this country I required that the younger men graduated from the replacement training camps should be sent to the divisions and the ranks of these units stripped of the privates who had been in training within the divisions for a long period in this country. This procedure was very hard on the divisional team but it was one way of meeting the public and Congressional desire in this matter. Some 140,000 were so assigned and reassigned. However, with the movement of the divisions out of the United States this procedure was no longer possible.

Furthermore, in the effort to provide infantry replacements for assignment overseas at the rates demanded by the heavy fighting, approximately 500,000 men were withdrawn from assignments other than divisional, in the United States, were retrained for infantry duty and sent abroad. In addition we summarily transferred from the Air Forces and the Service Forces a total of 90,000 men who were retrained as infantry. We also converted the personnel of units for which there was no longer an urgent requirement into infantry replacements—as, for example, more than 50 battalions of antiaircraft artillery, totaling 40,000 men. For the past six months we have been combing the coastal defense commands and our bases in Alaska and the Caribbean for men who are suitable for infantry replacements, they themselves to be replaced by personnel of such physical limitations that they could not be employed in combat service. The same procedure is being followed through all the rear areas in the overseas theaters, yet we are still short in replacements and under the heaviest pressure from our field commanders to obtain them.

The choice in this matter is very clear: either we must accept delays in our operations in Europe and in the Pacific or we must follow the present procedure. There is no other course. To delay the operations now under way would in my opinion be a tragic error resulting in an inevitably increased loss in life by the prolongation of the war. I am quite certain that the people of the United States would not make this choice. The attached comments of Mr. Stimson to the press on 1 March explain the situation and our efforts to meet it.3

I wish to make one further observation. The Secretary of War, Mr. Stimson, and I, and others in responsible places in the War Department, are keenly sensitive to the daily casualties we are suffering. Our constant effort has been so to conduct this war that it can be brought to a successful conclusion with a minimum of American casualties. The greatest economy will be obtained by the early termination of the fighting. We must never give the enemy a moment to recuperate his strength, to regain his balance, and the urgent requirement for replacements, strong and vigorous, must be met if we are to be successful.

I shall add this final comment, that I believe that never before in our history have the soldiers in our Army been so carefully prepared for battle as is the case at the present time.

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. Congressman Hess (Republican from Ohio) wrote to General Marshall on February 21 that the War Department had broken a pledge to Congress that eighteen-year-old soldiers would receive a year’s training before being sent overseas. General Marshall replied on February 27 in a staff-drafted letter that the War Department had consistently opposed any statutory restriction on military training. The “rather widespread misunderstanding” owed its origin to the “lack of understanding of the difference between the training of a large military organization such as a division (which requires a year or more) and the training required for an individual, which can be satisfactorily conducted in a period from 13 to 17 weeks.” While the army had previously made efforts not to send men overseas with less than a year’s training, the present manpower situation prevented special consideration for eighteen-year-olds. The chief of staff assured Hess that “under our present procedures no soldier can leave this country until he is prepared to perform his contemplated duties.” (Hess to Marshall, February 21, 1945, and Marshall [staff-drafted] to Hess, February 27, 1945, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].)

On February 28 Congressman Hess reiterated his charge that the War Department had promised Congress that eighteen-year-olds would receive a year’s training by quoting from testimony during 1941 and 1942 hearings on the draft. (Hess to Marshall, February 28, 1945, ibid.)

2. Congressman Hess had quoted excerpts from July 1941 hearings before the House Military Affairs Committee regarding extension of the draft. When asked how long it would take to properly train selectees, Major General Milton A. Reckord replied eighteen months, and Major General Jacob L. Devers replied one year and eight months because “we waste a month getting them in and we waste a month getting them out.” (Ibid.) In July 1941, Reckord was commander of the Twenty-ninth Division training at Fort Meade, Maryland, and Devers was commanding general of the Ninth Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

3. See Marshall Proposed Statement for Secretary of War’s Press Conference, March 1, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-047 [5: 63-64].

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. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 74-76.

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