“We are going to take care of the troops, first, last, and all the time.”—George C. Marshall
The exhibition for the recent “Weapons” of War sequence featured traditional weapons as well as “paper bullets” that influenced the attitudes of both the civilian and military populations.
In this sequence, Taking Care of the Troops, we focus on the soldier. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall believed men and women in uniform were his greatest asset. Speaking at Trinity College in June 1941 he said, “It is true, as the daily press points out, that we are applying all of American energy, ingenuity and genius we can mobilize, to the task of equipping our new Army with the most modern and efficient weapons in the world—and in ever-increasing quantity.”
Later when talking to the American Legion in 1943, he said, “my consideration is for the American soldier, to see that he has every available means with which to make successful war, that he is not limited in ammunition, that he is not limited in equipment, and that he has sufficient training and medical care; in other words, to see that for once in the history of this country he is given a fair break in the terrible business of making war.”
Marshall knew all too well from experience about the difficulties soldiers faced while fighting overseas, and he worked tirelessly to ensure that the soldiers he was leading had everything they would need to defeat the enemy. The concern that the enlightened Marshall had for providing for his soldiers’ needs went well beyond physical items such as uniforms, guns, ammunition and blankets to include entertainment, recreation, and spiritual guidance. Addressing the physical and emotional needs of the soldiers became a priority at all times because Marshall believed, “It is the spirit which we bring to the fight that decides the issue. It is morale that wins the victory.”
Marshall, who had been thinking about how to keep morale high during WWII, enthusiastically welcomed the establishment of the USO in 1941 in response to President Roosevelt’s desire to have six separate organizations coordinate their efforts to boost morale of military servicemen. USO centers were opened throughout the United States and eventually overseas. These centers held dances, showed movies, offered free coffee and donuts, and provided a quiet space for soldiers to write letters home. The USO became most well known for providing entertainment, known as camp shows, to servicemen and women. The USO shows helped remind the troops of their homes. They were a welcome diversion from the harsh realities of war. Between the establishment of the USO in 1941 and 1945 nearly 300,000 performances were held for more than 161 million servicemen and women. Today, the USO remains committed to supporting servicemen and women, as well as their families, by providing services and programs that promote their well being for each stage of military service.
The Army Chaplain Corps, formed in 1775, has participated in every military conflict up to present day and ministers to soldiers stationed at military bases or to units during deployments. Only 36 chaplains were serving in the army in 1939, but as a result of Marshall’s support for a robust Chaplain Corps and the overwhelming need for additional chaplains to serve the growing army, the ranks of the Chaplain Corps swelled to more than 3,000 by 1945. Marshall had great confidence in the Chaplain Corps and in a radio address stated, “There should be no fear that any young man will suffer spiritual loss during the period of his military service, and on the contrary, we hope that the young soldier will return to his home with a keener understanding of the sacred ideals for which our churches stand.” The Chaplain Corps today includes more than 3,000 chaplains representing 140 different religious organizations.
Marshall was against expanding officer training because there were not sufficient instructors to do so. Marshall was also against cutting corners on manufacturing weapons. Yet as the build up for a world war consumed his attention, he had to act. He had earned the nickname “The Wizard” during WWI for his logistics brilliance. As chief of staff during WWII his logistics genius re-emerged as Marshall solved countless supply, training, housing, equipment and transportation problems for an Army that grew from about 190,000 soldiers in uniform when he became chief of staff in 1939 to more than 8,000,000 by war’s end in 1945.