Monday, April 30, 2018

Military Monday #1 "Ernie and George"

For the inaugural Military Monday, I'm going to paint for you in broad strokes the very rough outline of my senior thesis/very fuzzy notion for a history book I've been kicking around.

First off, a bit of stage setting:

Georgia Southern University, Mid 00s

A tall, and at the time skinny, due to his love for Bud Light in lieu of real beer, frat boy ROTC cadet was taking U.S. Military History every Tues and Thur from 0830-0945. Which is to say, not very regularly because, as Dr. Allison said more than once, I knew enough to pass but wasn't smart enough to attend. Yeah, I spent a lot of time on academic probation. But one thing, Dr. Allison said that really struck with me was that, and paraphrasing slightly, was this:

"RADAR, the liberty ship, Boeing, and the Jeep were all instrumental in the Allied war effort; but, the war was won at the ugly Old War, State, and Navy Building"

Which is to say that, in my opinion, that FADM Ernest King and General of the Army George Marshall were the main organizers of United States military strategy and thus that of the Allied powers.

They were a study in opposites. General Marshall, a stately Virginian, calm and reserved in all things. FADM King, a loud boisterous blue collar kid from Ohio.

Some scholars present their interactions as tenuous and strained, two men whom didn't much care for one another. And that is very grounded in reality; however, there is a bit more to the story of these two five star greats.

World War Two saw a massive expansion of the U.S. military to put it mildly. FDR appointed a Navy Admiral, the former viceroy of Puerto Rico to the position of what we would now call Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Staff of the Army Air Corps were at the time Lieutenant Generals. That left King and Marshall as some of the few equals in the world.

Some of their personal correspondence is actually addressed as "Ernie" and "George" between the two of them. Which I found both fascinating and very telling as to how they viewed one another. To put it context, General Marshall once famously told FDR that he was to be addressed as "General" and not George.

And Ernie King, well Ernie King, was a self described son of a bitch. His daughter referred to him as even tempered in the sense that he was always angry. An apocryphal tale that surely has some truth behind it is that Admiral King barked at an aide sometime in early December of '41 to "Tell Chet Nimitiz to get the hell out to Pearl and stay there until we win the damn war."

But, and this is where, my thesis ratchets into high gear, they were two very different men with the same very important goal: win the war as quickly as possible with as few Allied causalities as possible.

Everyone knows of FADM Nimitz and General of the Army Eisenhower, and rightfully so, they kicked the hell out of the bad guys in their respective theaters. A study I read at Benning stated that with the exception of the Confederate Cavalry under Stonewall Jackson, no other force of citizen soldiers had come together so quickly into such an effective team as did the men of the U.S. Navy 3rd/5th Fleets during World War Two.

And none of that could have been possible had two guys from different worlds worked together to save the world. Admiral King retired in 1945, his two ocean Navy being chopped into razor blades. General Marshall tried to tend to his rose garden but was called back as SecDef and SecState.

For further reading, I strongly recommend "Master of Seapower" by Thomas Buell and the massive four volume biography of General of the Army Marshall by Forrest Pogue.

If these is a Valhalla, I like to think those two guys are sitting in the Flag Officers Mess, sipping bourbon and wine respectively, in undress khaki, discussing plans for the final battle between good and evil.


  1. I didn't know that "Twenty Knot Tommy" had died. He was known for caring for the welfare of his crew, to the point that it effectively ended his career.

    1. Yes, it was a tremendous loss to the historical community. The above Dr. Allison had actually attended some seminars put on by CAPT Buell.

  2. Hey Mack;

    I remember reading about the acrimony between FADM KING and Gen Marshall, but they respected each other as professionals to work for the best interest of the country and not their own parochial interest. I read a book about the "Iron Majors" that their job at the joint Chiefs is to espouse their own service interest over the country.


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