"There must have been something the matter with him," said Lt. Gen. DeWitt C. Smith, Jr. to George C. Marshall's private secretary, Mona Nason.
"He sounds entirely too much like George Washington. Didn't he have any warts or moles?
"Ah, yes. He had some moles," said the secretary, who had known the most vulnerable side of the soldier-stateman, when he was not on public display at all.
"He was a complete disciplinarian and perfectionist. I think that isolates you a little. Here is something I have never heard said of him, through, and I want to say it. He demanded perfection of those who worked for him. But he also expected perfection. There is a difference. He paid you the incredible honor of assuming you would do things perfectly.
"Of course he did forget names. There is that. Once I reminded him:
"'General, my name is Nason, not Mason.' and he said, 'Why Mona, what in the world have I been calling you?' and I said, 'general sometimes you call me Nason but then again you cal me Mason, and it's Nason, with an N.' He just threw back his head and roared."
But when a Col. Young heard of this, he said:
"Well, while you were straigthening him out, I wish you'd told him my name is Young and not Taylor."
And when Marshall heard that, he squared everything. The next time he saw Maxwell Taylor, he called him Col. Young.
So much for warts and moles.
Last night a group of old associates held a dinner at the Capital Hilton Hotel to observe the 100th anniversary of George Catlett Marshall's birth, an astounding event in Washington annals of this kind since there was not a tedious or windy moment in it.
Instead of an invocation by a cleric enchanted with his captive audience, a prayer was sung by men from Marshall's old school, the Virginia Military Academy. Introductions were banned. Even four of Gen. Marshall's grandchildren were not introduced.
General of the Army Omar Bradley, in a wheelchair, acknowledged a nod by the dinner chairman, Roswell L. Gilpatric, but declined to make an oration, and the chairman himself -- a thing utterly unknown in this capital -- did not spend even 10 seconds explaining his own wondrousness, but introduced the speakers BANG and sat down.
Alice Acheson, widow of the famous secretary of state, was among those who admitted she had never seen a dinner quite like it for brevity, for punch, for courtesy to the audience. She remembered well one dinner where a main speaker never got to say anything, since his predecessor hogged all the time.
Instead of an interminable biography of Marshall, the soldier-stateman and perfect American (not to split hairs about it), his long career was recalled by a group of popular songs, current at various decades of his service, sung by the VMI men. Who were quite short on tenors, but very strong in baritones.
Even people like Averell Harriman, a chief speaker, were limited to five minutes and did not exceed it:
"If you picture a statesman in your mind, well Marshall is the man," he said. Even his great Marshall Plan for rebuilding of Europe, Harriman added, "was not against any ideology [he meant not against the Russians] but against human want and human misery."
An old associate, Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, said that curiously he never once saw Gen. Marshall express anger, or ever once seem to weigh "what's in it for me; how am I going to look?"
Anna Rosenberg Hoffman, who Marshall insisted should become his undersecretary of defense, said he was far in advance of his time, insisting she form a committee to find out exactly what problems women were running into in military service.
"Can't I wait a week or two?" she asked -- she was brand new at the Pentagon.
"No," said Marshall. "I want to know, and I want this committee formed now." And he attended the meetings and listened to those who had talked with the women, Hoffman said.
There was some resistance, she went on, to confirming a woman for undersecretary. Marshall said she must interrupt him, no matter what he was doing, the instant the confirmation of the Senate came through. She obeyed and told him the instant word was received.
"Very good," said Marshal. "Now go get yourself a facial, you look like hell."
Another time Marshall sent her on a mission to President Truman. "Tell him it's politically dangerous, but would be good for the services. But don't overemphasize the good of the services. Just tell him what the situation is, not disguising the political danger," Marshall had instructed her.
So she did as Marshall said. But Truman shot back:
"Please don't tell me what is politically dangerous and what is not. Just tell me what Gen. Marshall wants because that's the way it's going to be."
And Hoffman added:
"It's the way he affected almost everybody."
Brig. Gen. Frank McCarthy spoke of Marshall's integrity and fairly superhuman virtures, then said:
"I was once his aide when he took a few days off to go fishing in Oregon, and spent my time wiring the Pentagon in code and wading about to inform Marshall how the war was going, as he was fishing. I was using the phone as a lieutenant, very inconvenient for that young officer.
"It turned out the lieutenant was in love with a nurse stationed in Honolulu, but there was no way he could see her. I mentioned to Marshall how useful the lieutenant's phone was and how he could never see his sweetheart.
"Marshall said, "Don't we sometimes send couriers with papers to Honolulu?' and promptly the lieutenant was sent with papers to Honolulu, with arrangements to have him delayed there for five days. The lieutenant married his girl, who was discharged from the service without prejudice, and Gen. Marshall was pleased to have scored a victory over the Navy, and to have improved the morale of the Air Force."