Marshall's job at Myer: Relax and unwind
April 12, 2013
By Jim Dresbach
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Fellow ally Winston Churchill called U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall "the organizer of victory." His acclaim during World War II was equally measured alongside the great social icons of the day - Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. While Crosby and Hope were "on the road" in motion pictures, Marshall hunkered down as the orchestrator of the largest American combat force assembled during the 20th century.
As Marshall formed European and Pacific military game plans from his Munitions Building office during World War II, his residence and peaceful sanctuary during the time of the latter world war was Fort Myer. Marshall was a resident of the base on two occasions. His first stay was from 1921 to 1924 as an aide to Gen. John Pershing; a war-generation later, Marshall lived in Quarters One as chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1939 to 1945. But there were brushes with the Northern Virginia Army installation before and between his main stints of residency.
Marshall was at Fort Myer July 30, 1909, along with an estimated 7,000 visitors. That day, the Wright brothers provided an additional flyover to win a government contract for the Wright Model A Military Flyer. Marshall was a guest of a friend, Lt. Benjamin Foulois, who was Orville Wright's navigator that day, but there is no documentation that Marshall witnessed the flyover.
Months before taking up permanent residence on Myer in the summer of 1939, Marshall was invited through a series of letters to be a houseguest of then 3d Calvary Commander George S. Patton. In his papers, Patton mentioned that Marshall enjoyed doing his own driving during off-duty hours and had a large circle of acquaintances.
Acquaintances aside, Marshall was an extremely private person. He trusted the gates and walls of Myer to provide a measure of privacy and an off-hours hideaway. But according to Marshall biographer Rachel Thompson, that was not always the case while the general relaxed and leisured around his Myer home.
"The first spring they were there [as chief of staff], he superintended most of the planting," Thompson said. "While he was planting one day, he was disconcerted by the blare of a megaphone. A Washington site-seeing bus had stopped in front of the house, and the guide pointed out that this was the house of the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Marshall. From that point forward, if he saw a sight-seeing bus coming up the hill, he'd hide behind a bush."
Through the help of his second wife, Katherine, Marshall attempted to disconnect from Europe and the Pacific theaters of battle through leisurely pastimes. According to Katherine's memoirs, taking her husband away from the war was her primary contribution to the war effort.
"For one thing, they loved the idea of getting out and walking around Fort Myer," Thompson said. "They liked to walk an Arlington neighborhood called Buckingham. It was one of those things [the Marshalls] did every night. As the war progressed and it would get into summer, they would take canoe trips on the Potomac River. That was a way to get away from the heat and the stress of the war.
"They also would go to the movies. When they would go to the movies at Fort Myer, they would get there after the movie started, so they wouldn't attract very much attention," she continued. "And they would slip out at the very end. Everywhere he went, he attracted attention."
Marshall found solitude in horseback riding. As chief of staff, there was always one standing appointment - an hour ride before breakfast.
Though his actual whereabouts are undocumented in regard to the July 30 Wright flyover, history has accounted for Marshall's whereabouts the morning the United States was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. "During the war, that was one way of blowing off steam," Thompson said. "He definitely was riding on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941."
His six years as chief of staff recorded many personal milestones, including family nuptials and diplomatic holiday dinners. Before United States' involvement in World War II, the general's stepdaughter was married at Quarters One during Christmas, 1940, and a holiday dinner allowed a British diplomatic contingent, which included Ambassador Lord Halifax, a chance to be festive on Christmas, 1941.
Marshall's favorite area at Quarters One was the sun porch. Lunch and slumber were just two activities enjoyed there.
"They spent a lot of time on the sun porch," Thompson said. "That sun porch was an incredibly important place where he could relax. When he would come home, he might bring two or three people who were related to the business of war as guests. He enjoyed napping in that sun room."
A Marshall admirer, President Harry S. Truman, once remarked that if one wants a friend in Washington, one should get a dog. Marshall did have a dog while at Myer. Fleet, a Dalmatian, often found its way off the base.
"Fleet the dog provided them with a lot of stories," Thompson remarked. "The dog would run away. The dog had tags, so people would bring him back to Fort Myer. There were many photo opportunities with people who found Fleet. One time, Fleet crossed the river [into Washington D.C.] and was found by a government employee."
That government employee then requested a written endorsement for a more lucrative federal job from the general for Fleet's return.