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Editorial Note on Marshall as Aide to Pershing
Special Orders, No. 116, dated April 26, 1919, directed Colonel George C. Marshall, Jr., to proceed to Metz and report to the Place de la Republique at ten o’clock on the morning of April 30 to receive—along with seventeen other officers, most of whom he had long known—the Legion of Honor of France, degree of officer. Shortly before the ceremony, another medal recipient, Lieutenant Colonel James L. Collins, Sr., (U.S.M.A., 1907) secretary of the General Staff and formerly one of General Pershing’s aides, asked Marshall if he would like to become an aide-de-camp to the general. After the ceremony, Marshall said yes. (Major General James L. Collins, Sr., interviewed by Forrest C. Pogue, December 2, 1960, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.) The next day, May 1, Marshall joined Pershing’s two other aides, Colonel John G. Quekemeyer (U.S.M.A., 1906), a cavalryman from Mississippi, and Major John C. Hughes, a young Princeton University graduate who had volunteered for war duty.
As noted previously, Marshall first attracted Pershing’s attention at Gondrecourt in 1917, when the younger officer vigorously defended the First Division against what he considered the general’s unjust criticisms. Thereafter, Pershing made it a point to talk to Marshall whenever he visited the division. These en-counters gave Marshall some insight into the commander in chief’s character. "I have never seen a man who could listen to as much criticism—as long as it was constructive criticism and wasn’t just being irritable or something of that sort. You could talk to him like you were discussing somebody in the next country and yet you were talking about him personally. . . . You could say what you pleased as long as it was straight, constructive criticism. And he did not hold it against you for an instant. I never saw another commander that I could do that with. Their sensitivity clouded them up, so it just wouldn’t work. I have seen some I could be very frank with, but I never could be frank to the degree that I could with General Pershing." (Marshall Interviews, p. 198.)
After observing Pershing closely while an aide, Marshall discerned another dimension of the chief’s character. "General Pershing as a leader always dominated any gathering where he was. He was a tremendous driver, if necessary; a very kindly, likeable man on off-duty status but very stern on a duty basis.” Marshall Interviews, p. 240.)
Marshall had plenty of opportunity during the spring and summer of 1919 to observe Pershing in gatherings on- and off-duty. The social demands on the general’s time were enormous. Triumphal parades, ceremonies, parties, receptions, and a host of civic spectacles in Europe and later in the United States were considered by their sponsors as incomplete without the American commander’s presence. These activities also demanded a large proportion of Marshall’s time. In rejecting an attempt by the War Department to have Marshall returned to Washington to strengthen the personnel of Colonel John McAuley Palmer’s Special Committee on National Defense Projects and Plans, Pershing responded that Marshall was "a member of my personal staff and can not be spared.” (Brigadier General Lytle Brown to the Chief of Staff, June 7, 1919, NA/201 File; March to Pershing, June 10, 1919, and Pershing to March, June15, 1919, both in NA/RG 120 [AG, Cable Division].)
Recommended Citation: The Papers 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. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 189-190.