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To Colonel Edwin T. Cole
February 24, 1939 [Washington, D.C.]
My dear Colonel Cole:
I really have been deeply affected by your letter of February 20th.1 It recalled the days of Salt Creek Valley and Sentinel Hill—my first real beginning towards a career in this Army, because it opened my eyes to the broader viewpoint of Military development and education which was to be necessary for any officer who hoped to achieve position in later years.
Also, I was touched by your comments about me personally. I have always been grateful for the distinction of your selecting me, an inconspicuous and overslaughed second lieutenant, to be an instructor at Leavenworth in those days when everyone was my senior. It was the first step, and therefore the most important step to me personally.
Then, another thing, I have always felt personally grateful to you for my topographic education. It was of such tremendous value in the War that there can be no offhand rating of its importance. On one occasion, the intimate knowledge you ground into me of the ground forms and critical points and limits, saved me from walking into German lines during a reconnaissance in the dark preliminary to the fight at Cantigny. There was no wire to restrict one and I had never seen the ground in the day time and incidentally never have seen it by daylight. Booth had a similar experience in an automobile drive south down the Meuse River towards St. Mihiel before we took the salient.
However, I never fully realized the advantage we had in our ground knowledge as a result of your course at Leavenworth, until I came into intimate contact with junior officers of the Army after the War; especially during the period I was running the Infantry School at Benning the principal difficulty was to secure instructors who understood the thing as we of the pre-war Leavenworth crowd had been trained to do. It was an odd situation, where almost every general officer was an expert topographer and the young men had merely a theoretical knowledge of map reading.
Most of the trouble today has been due to the fact that there are so many specialties which must be learned and highly technical subjects to be mastered, such as modern communications and innumerable infantry weapons—cannons, mortars, machine guns, automatic rifles; firing at high speed targets, etc., that there is little time to give to the laborious business of making maps. And that is the only way I know how to teach one to read a map.
I have been busier the last three months than at any time since the World War and with just about as many conflicting interests and problems to deal with.
Yesterday was Washington’s birthday and I spent practically all day at the Capitol in connection with the final vote by the Senate committee on the Army Bill. Today I am at it again, but at this end of the line. Everything has grown so complicated and one must have so much detailed knowledge of many side lines, scientific, mechanical, technical, political etc.—that I look back with envy on the peaceful days of the old Army when we debated the relative merits of a chuck wagon attachment for the escort wagon, and carefully considered its advantages for hunting trips. You can’t even march on the road today without being sideswiped by an automobile. All the glamour, if there ever was any, has gone out of the business of war, and it becomes more and more a proposition of horrible possibilities, with an extremely complicated approach in each instance.
I appreciate all the kind things you had to say about me personally, more than I can express in such a letter, but I appreciate more than anything else the fact that you wrote as you did.
One reference I would like to make regarding an interesting comment you made about General Pershing—I had a letter from him two days ago. You wrote that you had heard “Some claim that he was inclined to wear a very high hat”, and was difficult of approach. Exactly the opposite is the case. I have always found him as informal and as unpretentious almost as a boy and as youthful in his reactions. He could listen to more opposition to his apparent view than any man I have ever known, and show less personal feeling than anyone I have ever seen. He was the most outstanding example of a man with complete tolerance towards all discussions regarding the matters in which he was considering, regardless of what his own personal opinions seemed to be. In that quality lay a great part of his strength. Of course, hard common sense and backbone were his cardinal attributes.
As to General Sumner—I knew him and Mrs. Sumner well, and called on them with General Pershing.2 Her favorite story was how, when General Sumner refused to get a trunk out of a warehouse for her to wear to a reception at Oklahoma City because she had made up her mind so late in the day, Captain Pershing broke into the warehouse and got the trunk. She said General Sumner did not think this so funny at the time, but it was Mrs. Sumner’s greatest compliment.
With most affectionate regards,
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, General Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed letter.
1. Cole, formerly Marshall’s superior in the Engineering Department at Fort Leavenworth (1908-10), had written a long letter which had been stimulated by Marshall’s February 16 address on National Defense Week on the NBC radio network. Concerning his former pupil, Cole observed: “I have for years predicted that if we again went to war when you were not too young or too old to be considered that you would undoubtedly be the Commander in Chief.“ (Cole to Marshall, February 20, 1939, GCMRL/G. C. Marshall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].)
2. Major General Samuel S. Sumner, who served in the army from 1861 until 1906, had once been Cole’s as well as Pershing’s commanding officer. Sumner died on July 26, 1937.
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. 703-705.