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Marshall, S. L. A.

Marshall, S. L. A. (1900–1977), military writer, journalist, army officer, pioneer of combat history techniques in World War II.Born in Catskill, New York, Samuel A. Marshall grew up in El Paso, Texas, enlisted in the army in 1917, and won a lieutenant's commission in France. He subsequently joined the National Guard. Marshall became a journalist in El Paso in 1923, but moved in 1927 to the Detroit News, from which, except during tours of army duty, he covered wars for forty years. Through his syndicated column and other publications, “SLAM” Marshall became one of America's best‐known military writers.

In writing battlefield history, Marshall's technique was to interview survivors, particularly enlisted men and junior officers, individually and in groups, soon after an encounter. He elicited and compared details and wrote up his findings almost immediately in a highly readable, anecdotal narrative style.

Two books (1940 and 1941) by Marshall on Germany's mobile warfare led to his appointment in 1942 as a major in charge of army orientation. In 1943, he helped found the army's Historical Branch and followed American troops through the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, where he conducted his first after action interviews. In 1944–45, he covered the Allied invasion of Western Europe, spending considerable time interviewing under fire.

Afterward, resuming his journalistic career, Marshall wrote a number of books on World War II battles. Most influential was Men Against Fire (1947). His assertion that only 25 to 30 percent of front‐line American soldiers fired their weapons, even when under attack, provoked considerable controversy. Infantry Journal contained articles by professional officers challenging his figures. Despite this skepticism, Marshall's findings contributed to changes in army training doctrine.

(Marshall said his evidence came from his interviews with combat soldiers, but after his death, when no notes of such interviews were found in his papers, a new debate emerged in 1989 over the authenticity of these findings. Roger J. Spiller of the army's Combat Studies Institute challenged the evidence, but Marshall's grandson, John Douglas Marshall—who had broken with his grandfather by resigning his commission as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War—defended him.)

During the Korean War, Marshall was promoted to brigadier general in 1951 and assigned to the Eighth Army. Afterward, he wrote Pork Chop Hill (1956), later a Hollywood film. Having accompanied the Israeli Army in 1956, he wrote Sinai Victory (1958).

The army sent Marshall to Vietnam in 1967. He defended U.S. military action there, criticized the press, and later opposed the withdrawal of American troops.

As a syndicated columnist, military historian, and author of more than thirty books, Marshall had a significant influence—especially in the 1940s and 1950s—on the way combat was perceived by the public and by many in the military.
[See also Combat Effectiveness; Training and Indoctrination.]


S. L. A. Marshall , Island Victory, 1944.
S. L. A. Marshall , Men Against Fire: The Problem of Command in Future War, 1947.
S. L. A. Marshall , Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action, 1956.
S. L. A. Marshall , Battles in the Monsoon, 1976.
S. L. A. Marshall , Bringing Up the Rear, ed. Cate Marshall, 1980.
Roger J. Spiller , S. L. A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire, RUSI Journal, vol. 133, no. 4 (1988), pp. 63–71.
F. D. G. Williams , SLAM: The Influence of S. L. A. Marshall on the United States Army, 1990.
John Douglas Marshall , Reconciliation Road: A Family Odyssey of War and Honor, 1993.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

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