Forever in his debt: George C. Marshall

Guest post by Mame Warren

Reading other people’s mail, particularly when one of the correspondents is George C. Marshall, provides an absorbing opportunity to delve into stories behind the official history. One of the towering figures of the twentieth century, Marshall helped orchestrate the Allied victory in World War II as chief of staff of the US Army, although he is best remembered for the European Recovery Program—universally known as the Marshall Plan—which he first proposed on June 5, 1947, as secretary of state under President Harry S. Truman. This year, as we prepare to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington, Virginia, I’ve learned a lot about the genesis of the foundation that made the research library—and my fascinating job helping to edit the seventh and final volume of The Papers of George Catlett Marshall—a reality.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received a copy of The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, volume 6, “The Whole World Hangs in the Balance,” January 8, 1947–September 30, 1949 on one of her final days in office.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received a copy of The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, volume 6, “The Whole World Hangs in the Balance,” January 8, 1947–September 30, 1949 on one of her final days in office.

One of Harry Truman’s last acts before leaving office was to issue a presidential directive on January 17, 1953, to the secretaries of state and defense and the head of the General Services Administration advising them that “The Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute has arranged for the organization of the George C. Marshall Research Foundation, Inc., as a non-profit Virginia corporation. The purpose of the Foundation will be to collect and receive papers and records with other historical objects and documents, and to provide a suitable building to house them at VMI. To assist in effectuating this, the General Assembly of Virginia has enacted legislation authorizing VMI to deed land to the Foundation.”

“The establishment of the Foundation has been a matter of great interest to me,” Truman continued, “and I have consulted with VMI officials about it over a period of more than a year. In connection with these conferences, I have agreed that the United States Government would in so far as practicable make available to the Foundation documentary material relating to the activities of General Marshall as a soldier, as Secretary of State, and as Secretary of Defense.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the Marshall Library on May 23, 1964. He was escorted down the steps by General Marshall’s close friend and Marshall Foundation President General of the Army Omar Bradley.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the Marshall Library on May 23, 1964. He was escorted down the steps by General Marshall’s close friend and Marshall Foundation President General of the Army Omar Bradley.

Many meetings and much correspondence ensued among Marshall’s former colleagues and many admirers who believed, as Winston Churchill did, that “Succeeding generations must not be allowed to forget his achievements and example.” Marshall, who had steadfastly refused to write his memoirs, professing that he had been compensated adequately for his service to his country, was reluctant to become involved. Finally, on December 22, 1954, General Marshall wrote to John C. Hagan, the first president of the Marshall Foundation, “In accordance with your request, I will turn over to the Foundation those documents in my personal possession which may legally and appropriately be made a part of the collection being assembled by the Foundation.”

When the New York Times announced on December 31, 1955, plans to build the George C. Marshall Research Library and to publish his papers, letters and checks of support quickly followed. “I shall feel forever in your debt, sir, and I always will admire, respect and remember your name and what you have done,” wrote World War II veteran and New York businessman Edward M. Rosenthal, who included a check for one thousand dollars.

The library dedication drew more dignitaries and the largest crowd that Lexington had ever welcomed. Audience estimates ranged from ten to twenty thousand and security was tight when President Johnson took the podium just months after the Kennedy assassination.

The library dedication drew more dignitaries and the largest crowd that Lexington had ever welcomed. Audience estimates ranged from ten to twenty thousand and security was tight when President Johnson took the podium just months after the Kennedy assassination.

Rosenthal considered himself the “happiest citizen, luckiest human being because I live in America. You, sir, I feel have done much to make it possible for me and my family to have what we possess,” he told Marshall. On June 5 in Lexington we will observe the fulfillment of the Marshall Foundation founders’ vision. And on June 6 we’ll get back to work on volume 7 of the Marshall Papers.

For more on George Marshall and his legacy, please visit the Marshall Foundation online.

The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, Vol. 6Mame Warren is a senior assistant editor of The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, based at the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington, Virginia, which will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary on June 5. Warren spent twelve years as director of Hopkins History Enterprises at the Johns Hopkins University, and edited Johns Hopkins: Knowledge for the World, 1876–2001; Our Shared Legacy: Nursing Education at Johns Hopkins, 1899–2006; and Transit to Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Space Research at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. With her father, Marion E. Warren, she coauthored Bringing Back the Bay; Maryland Time Exposures, 1840–1940; and Baltimore: What She Was When She Used to Be, published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

1 Comment

Filed under American History, American Studies, Biography, Foreign Policy, Libraries, Military

One response to “Forever in his debt: George C. Marshall

  1. Jonathan Schaefer

    This is a worthwhile legacy to explore of one of the great U.S. general officers of WWII as well as his postwar reconstruction work.