‘Marshall’s Greatness for All to Understand’
LEXINGTON, Va., Aug. 18, 2016 – On June 23, the George C. Marshall Foundation celebrated an accomplishment nearly four decades in the making: the publication of the seventh and final volume of The Papers of George Catlett Marshall.
It’s true that it took less time for the Voyager I spacecraft to reach interstellar space – its launch was in 1977, the same year the Marshall project started, with arrival accomplished by the spacecraft back in 2012. But those who worked on the Marshall papers project say that for an undertaking such as this, which involved collecting and annotating thousands of documents, concluding in just 39 years is speedy work indeed.
“These projects always last for years and years,” said Dr. Mark Stoler, emeritus professor of history at the University of Vermont, who served as editor for the last two volumes of the papers. Stoler put the Marshall papers project in perspective by noting that work on the papers of George Washington began in 1968 and is yet to be completed. Likewise, work on an 80-volume history of the U.S. Army in World War II began just after the war ended in 1945 and finished this year.
Marshall Foundation strategizes to preserve Marshall's memory as inspiration to future leaders.
The Marshall papers project began 13 years after the Marshall Foundation moved into its home on the VMI post with the hiring of Larry Bland. Bland initiated a massive effort to collect and publish the papers of Marshall, a member of the VMI Class of 1901. The statesman, who died in 1959 at the age of 78, had not only served as U.S. Army chief of staff during World War II, but later, while serving as secretary of state, became the architect of the Marshall Plan, which brought recovery to war-ravaged Europe. Marshall remains the only career officer in the U.S. Army to win the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor he received in 1953.
Undeterred by the magnitude of the task ahead of him, Bland made multiple trips to the National Archives to put documents on microfiche and bring the microfiche back to Lexington. By the time of his death in 2007, Bland and his assistant editor, Sharon Stevens, had published five volumes. In 2013, Stevens herself died following a long illness.
In 2008, Stoler was hired to pick up where Bland had left off. The two men had been friends, a relationship forged while Stoler was making trips to Lexington to do the research for his 1989 biography of Marshall, George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century.
To conclude the Marshall papers project, Stoler hired Dan Holt, now retired from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, as managing editor. Because neither Stoler nor Holt could be in Lexington full time to work on the project, four then-local residents were hired to assist them: Mame Warren and Anne Wells, both senior assistant editors; Gregory Franke, assistant editor; and Joanne Hartog, research assistant. In eight years, that team published the last two volumes of the series.
The publication of the final volume is a “fantastic achievement,” noted Dr. Rob Havers, who has served as president of the Marshall Foundation since 2014. “Marshall is a key figure during many of the world events of the first half of the 20th century,” said Havers. “These papers, now concluded, … present Marshall’s greatness for all to understand and appreciate.”
Underneath the greatness, of course, was a man, the youngest of three children of a family from Uniontown, Pennsylvania. George C. Marshall followed his older brother, Stuart, to VMI, where the younger Marshall was a member of the football team and served as first captain his 1st Class year.
Stoler noted that Marshall felt “very, very warmly” toward his alma mater. At a time in his life when he was extraordinarily busy with commitments on the national stage, serving first as secretary of state from 1947 to 1949 and then secretary of defense from 1950 to 1951, Marshall made time for VMI. He was a member of the Board of Visitors from 1946 to 1954 and addressed the graduating classes on four occasions between 1940 and 1956. In addition, Stoler noted that Marshall maintained an “extensive correspondence” with the Institute’s superintendents in those years.
Stoler emphasized that Marshall’s time at VMI had a deep and long-lasting impact on his character and career. “There was nothing about Marshall that would say that this man is destined for glory before he arrives at VMI,” the historian and biographer said. “Something happens at VMI.”
And while the Institute’s influence on Marshall was far-reaching, so was Marshall’s influence on VMI. Lt. Col. Bradley L. Coleman ’95, an associate professor of history and director of the John A. Adams ’71 Center for Military History, teaches from the Marshall papers on a regular basis.
“For me, in the classroom, the published Marshall papers are the single most effective teaching tool,” said Coleman. “I routinely ask cadets to read documents from the collection. It is an exceptionally effective way to teach American foreign relations and military history [at VMI].”
Coleman’s appreciation for Marshall began during his own cadetship, when he served as a cadet assistant at the Marshall Library and got to know Bland and his staff. In the intervening years, that appreciation has deepened. “The collection documents the career of a hugely influential VMI graduate,” Coleman commented. “It preserves his contribution to global affairs for posterity and assures that Marshall and his work [are] accessible to a broad audience in perpetuity.”
Publication of the Marshall papers has been supported by grants from a variety of sources, chief among them the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historic Publications and Records Commission.
As with the first six volumes, the seventh volume, The Man of the Age, is available for purchase in the Marshall Museum Shop or online at marshallfoundation.org.
– Mary Price