Where were our World War II leaders during World War I?

Today’s post comes from Jim Worsham, editor of Prologue, the quarterly magazine of the National Archives.

Capt. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Camp Colt, Pennsylvania, 1918. (Eisenhower Library, National Archives)

As the nation began assembling its troops to fight World War I in Europe, Capt.  Dwight D. Eisenhower desperately wanted a combat assignment.

And “Ike” never passed up an opportunity to put in for one, even being reprimanded for asking for overseas duty so often.

When he finally received orders to ship off to Europe in mid-November 1918, Eisenhower was in command of a tank school at Camp Colt, Pennsylvania, ready to go. But the orders came too late—the war ended and they were revoked.

The man who, a quarter-century later, would lead the D-Day invasion of western Europe, never left American soil.

Other World War II leaders, however, did see action in World War I, as described in an article in the Summer 2017 issue of Prologue magazine, the official publication of the National Archives.

The article is part of Prologue’s series of articles this year and next about World War I on the occasion of its centennial.

The issue also features a timeline that guides the reader through the war and explains every major milestone, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 to the Armistice in November 1918.

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Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower talks to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne in Newbury, England, on the eve of D-day, June 5, 1944. (Eisenhower Library, National Archives)

In “Where Our WWII Leaders Spent WWI,Prologue recounts some World War I experiences of Army and Navy officers who became the top generals and admirals during World War II.

Lt. Col. George S. Patton, Jr., commander of a tank brigade, and Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of an infantry brigade, encountered each other on a battlefield in France in late 1918. They chatted while infantrymen around them ducked for cover and fought the Germans.

Capt. Harry S. Truman was in charge of a 200-man battery of the 129th Field Artillery of the 35th Division. He would write home to his family that for about a month, “I did nothing but march at night and shoot or sleep in daylight.”

Lt. Col. George S. Patton, Jr., next to a tank in France, July 1918. (National Archives Identifier 55195274)

Franklin D. Roosevelt was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a job his cousin Theodore had also held on his way to the White House. FDR kept tabs on the buildup of the Navy and the naval presence in Europe during the war.

The admirals who fought Japan in the Pacific in World War II got some early career experience in the Atlantic during World War I, working on destroyers and torpedo boats.

One of them, William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr., made his mark in World War I and in 1934 was offered command of a new navy aircraft carrier, the Saratoga, on the condition that he go to flight school and be rated as an “observer,” a level down from “pilot.” Halsey agreed but insisted on training as a pilot, even though he was twice as old as pilots then in training.

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The Navy’s big three in the Pacific were together in October 1943 in Hawaii to map an overall strategy against Japan. From left, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Adm. Ernest King, and Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr. (Records of the Department of Navy, National Archives)

Read more about these leaders and others in the latest issue of Prologue magazine, official publication of the National Archives.

Prologue is available in printed form from the National Archives Store in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and at several of the Presidential libraries. You can subscribe or buy a single copy by going to our website.

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. Visit the National Archives website for full list of events and activities related to the commemoration. 

This photograph, taken in 1914 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, shows Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt (see inset) in full stride inspecting progress on USS Battleship No. 39. This vessel eventually became the USS Arizona, now at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as a memorial to those who died on what Roosevelt himself would eventually call a “date which will live in infamy,” December 7, 1941. (National Archives Identifier 6038115)


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