George Catlett Marshall

George Catlett Marshall was one of VMI's most celebrated graduates. At the dedication of the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington, Virginia, several of his close associates, including President Johnson, Robert Lovett, and General Omar Bradley, paid tribute to his leadership. General Eisenhower in particular spoke with insight of his forthright relations with his former commanding officer during the war years.

It is a high privilege for me, once again, to pay a simple tribute to General George C. Marshall. This time I do so in terms of my personal contacts with him.

A few of his characteristics are uppermost in my memory, and on these I shall dwell. They include his consideration for others; his clear, direct, and logical approach to any major military problem; his complete, single-minded dedication and loyalty to his country and government; and his selflessness and objectivity in making decisions and in courageously discharging his vitally important duties.

From World War I onward, I had often heard of George Marshall. By older officers he was always described as a brilliant soldier, by many as a genius. But until World War II was a week old, I had met him only twice, and then but momentarily. My direct association with him began December 14, 1941, on a Sunday morning in the old “munitions buildings” in Washington, D.C. He placed me in charge of military planning, later adding operations. On that Sunday morning a great deal of our conversation dealt with the situation in the Pacific. General Marshall brought me up to date with events and then said that he would look to me for assistance in planning help for that beleaguered area.

Just before dismissing me, he gave me some brief instructions that I have never forgotten. I can repeat his words almost verbatim, “Eisenhower,” he said, “the department is filled with able men who analyze their problems well but feel compelled always to bring them to me for final solution. I must have assistants who will solve their own problems and tell me later what they have done.”

He looked at me with an eye that seemed to me awfully cold, and so, as I left the room, I resolved then and there to do my work to the best of my ability and report to the General only situations of obvious necessity or when he personally sent for me.

This habit I cultivated to the point that one day, finding myself in a crisis situation, I issued an order that occasioned for me ten days of acute embarrassment. Indeed, I suspected—with obvious reason—that I might be ignominiously dismissed from the presence of the Chief of Staff, if not from the Army. The facts were these:

We badly needed to send a division of troops to Australia, and it happened that in one of our ports and ready to depart was the British ship the Queen Mary. Having permission to use her, I directed the loading of 15,000 men on her and started her across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope without escort.

Because of her speed, I was not particularly worried until we intercepted a cable sent by an Italian official in Brazil to his government in Rome. It read as follows:

“The Queen Mary just refueled here, and with about 15,000 soldiers aboard left this port today steaming southeast across the Atlantic.”

At once I had visions of all the German submarines in the South Atlantic trying to concentrate around the Cape of Good Hope area, possibly intercepting the great ship and filling her full of torpedoes. For the next few days I slept little. But finally I had the welcome news that the Queen Mary had arrived safely in Australia.

I felt so good that I took the time off to go voluntarily to the General’s office to tell what I had done and of the great suspense in which my principal assistants and I had been living. I said that I had not told him this before because I saw no use for his bearing the same burden of worry that I had been carrying. But now that all was well, I thought he might like to know what had happened.

He smiled and said, “Eisenhower, I received that intercept at the same time that you did. I was merely hoping that you might not see it, and so I was saying nothing to you until I knew the outcome.”

Rarely have I seen such generous consideration for a subordinate so beautifully exemplified.

One incident has bearing upon his conception of performance of duty without fear or favor. I was in his office once when he picked up the telephone to answer a call that an aide said came from a senator, the chairman of an important committee. As I watched the General’s face, it became flushed; he was obviously more than a little annoyed.

Within moments he angrily broke in to say, “Senator, if you are interested in that man’s advancement, or that of any other, the best thing you can do is to avoid mentioning his name to me. Good-bye!” Then he said to me, “I may make a thousand mistakes in this war, but none will be the result of political meddling! I take orders from the Secretary of War and the President; I would not stay here if I had to respond to outside pressures. Moreover,” he added, “I don’t like people who are seeking promotions.”

To possible senatorial displeasure he gave not a single thought.

In early conferences of the American Chiefs of Staff and, later, of the combined Chiefs of Staff—which meetings I attended as one of his assistants—he quickly established himself as the dominant figure. His vision was so clear, his grasp of complex issues so instinctive and precise, and his convictions so strong, that he was almost invariably the leader in discussions and in resultant decisions. In all Allied meetings in which I was present with him this continued throughout the war; his complete absorption in the task at hand was apparent to all.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In