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Editorial Note on Swearing in as Chief of Staff
September 1, 1939
In the early hours of September 1, 1939, Marshall telephoned Lieutenant Colonel Orlando Ward, secretary of the War Department General Staff. Ward noted in his diary: “Gen Marshall got me out of bed at 3:50 AM more than usual his calm self— Directed I notify Overseas Dept and CA’s [Corps Areas’ headquarters]— of hostilities in Poland—Including statement reference bombing of Warsaw.” (Orlando Ward Diary, September 1, 1939, photocopy in GCMRL/Research File.) Later that same morning George C. Marshall was promoted to the permanent rank of major general, filling the slot left by Malin Craig, and then sworn in as chief of staff (with the rank and title of general while holding that office) by Major General Emory S. Adams, the adjutant general. Shortly after taking the oath as chief of staff, Marshall attended a conference at the White House at 11:00 A.M.; President Roosevelt met with General Marshall, Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring, Assistant Secretary of War Louis A. Johnson, Acting Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold R. Stark. (FDRL/ White House Usher’s Diary.)
That fateful day Marshall replied to one of many well-wishers who had sent congratulatory greetings to the new chief of staff: “I wish above every thing else that I could feel that my time was to be occupied in sound development work, rather than in meeting the emergencies of a great catastrophe.” (Marshall to Harold R. Bull, September 1, 1939, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, Selected].) A few days later the chief of staff wrote: “My day of induction into office was momentous, with the starting of what appears to be a World War.” (Marshall to G. Edward MacGirvin, September 6, 1939, GCMRL/ G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)
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), p. 47.