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Editorial Note on Age-in-Grade Legislation
Finances were hardly Marshall’s sole congressional concern in early April. He also testified before the military affairs committees of the Senate (April 8) and House (April 9) on the long-festering age-in-grade promotion bill. This legislation sought to restructure the officers’ promotion system in order to rectify the problems caused by the “hump” of World War commissionings. Intended to provide field grade officers who were fit for the physical and mental demands of wartime command, this revision of A.R. 605-40 specified years of active service and years in grade as guideposts for promotion. “Captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels shall be promoted to the respective grades of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel immediately upon completing respectively 17 years’, 23 years’, and 28 years’ continuous commissioned service in the Regular Army” and passing the required physical fitness examination. No field-grade officer could have less than six-years service as a major and five-years service as a lieutenant colonel before promotion. The colonels list could not exceed 705 and the mandatory retirement age was lowered from sixty-four to sixty. (War Department, Circular No. 94, August 29, 1940.)
Before both committees, Marshall supported the bill “from two points of view.” The chief of staff first considered the rights of individuals. He found the new system afforded the best protection of individual rights within the profession that was legally possible. Second, Marshall believed that military efficiency and national defense was best served by a reorganization of the promotion list along these lines.
Officers commissioned during the World War, and fit for command in 1940, would be selected from a larger group including many unfit for command. “You have a man’s experience, you have his judgment. And that increases in the average individual with the years. But, unfortunately, from the military point of view his muscles and his tendons do not go along with that development of judgment and of experience. And they are absolutely necessary to field leadership.
“In my experience in the war—and I saw about 27 of 29 divisions in battle—there were more failures, more crushed careers of officers of considerable rank that grew out of physical exhaustion than by reason of any other one cause.”
Marshall also feared that officers commissioned after 1920, those following the “hump,” would be unfit for field-grade service in the event of war. “They will be so old when the time comes that they might eventually reach promotion to lieutenant colonel and colonel and so limited in experience in handling men, except in small groups, that it would be a very unfortunate thing for the Army to have them suddenly jump to positions of high command and control.” (Marshall testimony, Senate Military Affairs Committee, April 8, 1940, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Testimonies].)
“You have to lead men in war by requiring more from the individual than he thinks he can do,” Marshall told the members of the Senate Military Affairs Committee on April 8. “You have to lead men in war by bringing them along to endure and to display qualities of fortitude that are beyond the average man’s thought of what he should be expected to do. You have to inspire them when they are hungry and exhausted and desperately uncomfortable and in great danger; and only a man of positive characteristics of leadership, with the physical stamina that goes with it, can function under those conditions.” (Ibid.)
Concerned over the future of the officer corps, Marshall discussed the newest commissioned ranks in his House testimony on April 9, 1940. “Now, for the present, young men coming into the service, while the law gives them certainty of rank up to the grade of captain, thereafter they will advance too rapidly, due to the retirement of the World War officers. This bill, however, would control that situation. It would not allow undue rapidity of promotion as has occurred in the past; otherwise we would have a repetition of the vicious circle of rapid promotion for one group and too slow promotion for another.” (Marshall testimony, House Military Affairs Committee, April 9, 1940, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Testimonies].) The House and Senate finally reached agreement on the bill’s provisions in early June, and President Roosevelt signed it into law on June 13, 1940. (See Marshall to Morris Sheppard, June 5, 1940, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #2-191 [2: 236-37].)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 192-193.