hawkeye (hawkeye7) wrote,


The wikipedia continues to provide amusement. I'd ignore it if it were not for the fact that my stuff keeps finding its way there whether I upload it or not. It has a long way to go before it is a useful research tool though.

This week, I overhauled the article on Ben Lear, a relatively obscure US Army general today. The original article was just a stub. I do feel, however, that if you state in an article that someone participated in the Olympics, then you should perhaps also mention if they won a medal.

I did unearth an unusual story that I want to record more fully here.

Lear was playing golf at the Country Club in Memphis, Tennessee in civilian clothes on Sunday, July 6, 1941, when a convoy of U.S. Army trucks carrying men of the 35th Division rolled past.

Colonel R. Allen Griffin described the incident here in an oral history interview kept in the Truman Presidential Library:

GRIFFIN: I was his public relations officer at the time. I recall it very keenly. Lear was a devoted golfer, when he had time to play golf, and he was out on the Memphis Country Club golf course, which is more or less in the center of a residential part of the city, with a main road going past it. And that's the road you usually take going through from the Lebanon area, the eastern Tennessee area, in the direction of Arkansas. He was playing a hole right near that road when along came some trucks loaded with soldiers returning from maneuvers that had been held by, I think, the 35th Division. This was, I believe, a quartermaster regiment that was going past at that time; and I believe that division was commanded by a brother of Harry Truman.

FUCHS: General Ralph Truman. He was Truman's cousin.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Those men were a little out of hand, and some girls were walking along the sidewalk and the men made a lot of gestures and shouted a lot of things that were entirely unbecoming even to soldiers under those circumstances. In fact, they acted in a manner that Colonel Richmond, who was playing with General Lear, said was lewd and obscene; and Lear said, "Richmond, go out and stop those trucks."

So, Richmond went out and stopped them and Lear asked for the officer in each of the trucks. There were two officers there, and he dressed them down; and he said they were going to hear more of it and he wanted that entire regiment to bivouac in Memphis that evening, near the fairgrounds, and he would see them in the morning...

So, he dressed them down pretty hard the next day, and he ordered them to march, I think it was a total distance of 14 miles on foot, after they got out of town, and then they could be picked up and taken on. Well, there was perfect hell to pay as a result. Of course, it was warm weather, it was summer, but they carried no weapons. They were empty-handed, in cotton clothes.

Here's how TIME magazine reported the same incident:

Past the first tee of the Memphis Country Club the convoy moved at a snail's pace. Along the walk bordering the course strolled a group of girls in shorts. From the trucks came a drumfire of soldiers' shouts—"Yoo-Hoo-o-o"—"Hi, baby"—a fanfare of whistling.

"'Tis He!" On the first tee, hard by the street, a leathery-faced golfer was getting ready to tee off. "Fore," shouted a soldier. The golfer turned and glared at the trucks. Thereupon the soldiers let him have it: "Hey, buddy, do you need a caddy?" The man on the tee handed his driver to a caddy, jumped a three-foot fence, stalked to the convoy. A command car in the column jerked to a stop, and its officers piled out to face an Awful Fact. The golfer was Lieut. General Ben Lear, commander of the Second Army, director of the maneuvers from which the 110th had just emerged.

Ben Lear was a first sergeant before he was an officer, and what he had to tell the 110th's officers sizzled with first sergeant's wrath. When all the burning words had been said, Ben Lear told the convoy to move on, that it would hear from him after it got back to its home station at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, 145 miles away.

The men of the 110th, like the rest of the soldiers, know Ben Lear (in uniform). They know him as a ranker who lives commendably close to his troops, a rugged soldier despite his 62 years, a great believer in spit-and-polish. They know and generally approve his dislike of sloppy soldiers, his decisive action (TIME, June 23) to clear his Second Army of incompetent officers so that its outfits can grow into first-class fighting units. They know him, too, as a commander too much preoccupied with small details.

Tough Touch. But tough and touchy as Ben Lear is, no soldier of the 110th was prepared for the tough touch that awaited them when they pulled in at Camp Robinson toward sundown. The General's order: that the 110th return at once to Memphis and stand by. They were to get mass punishment, the innocent with the guilty.

Toward midnight the trucks were loaded again and the convoy was off. To rest tired drivers, it stopped three hours on the way, resumed the journey by dawn. Before noon the 110th had pitched tents on Memphis airport, was waiting for the lightning to strike. It struck soon. To the airport came Ben Lear in person, read the riot act again—"disgrace to the Army . . . loose conduct and rowdyism . . . breach of discipline." Then he announced sentence. After a night's rest, the 110th would head home. And on the way every man in the outfit must march 15 miles.

Next day, the hottest day in two years (97°), the trucks rumbled off, crossed the river, stopped beyond in the Arkansas flats, let all but the drivers out. Five miles ahead the drivers stopped, got out, started to march. Through the morning and afternoon, the trucks were leapfrogged, until everybody had had his dose. One man. just out of the hospital at Camp Forrest, Tenn., soon fell out, was trucked into Camp Robinson. During the day about twelve others fell out, were picked up. The stragglers and heat-stricken took emergency treatment from a dentist and a sanitary officer who were also being disciplined. The rest ate plenty of salt against the heat, filled their canteens silently at wayside towns, while the citizenry eyed them with sympathy...

Goat v. Rowdies. Neither did some Congressmen, who roundly trounced Ben Lear, off & on the floor. Texas' Paul J. Kilday sent a hot wire to the General, demanding an explanation. Ben Lear replied: "I am responsible for the training of all elements of this Army. . . . Rowdyism can not be tolerated. . . . Circumstances called for immediate action." Arkansas's William F. Norrell demanded a Congressional investigation ("He apparently is engaged all the time in playing golf"). Illinois's Everett M. Dirksen said he did not know "whether public funds are to be expended so that grouchy, golfing old generals will develop a lot of sourpuss soldiers." Missouri's isolationist Senator Bennett Champ Clark called Ben Lear "a superannuated old goat, who ought to retire."

The controversy spread like a heat wave. The Arkansas Department of the Army Mothers' Club demanded Ben Lear's removal. The Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel printed a letter from an Army mother ("Maybe General Lear got his rule books mixed and read the one for Russia") and the paper invited its readers to say more about the Memphis Incident.

You have to remember that the US was not at war at the time. Yet there was a draft and many families had received letters from soldiers who claimed that discipline in the Army was harsh, collective and unfair. It seems that mothers were, in a Helen Garner-ish way, more likely to sympathize with the soldiers than the women they harassed.

First of all, five miles' march is easily within the capability of reasonably of reasonably fit adults, even in the heat.
Second, this sort of behaviour is indiscipline of the worst kind. Soldiers take advantage of the relative anonymity of all looking alike and a certain herd mentality can set in. Serious incidents can result if this is unchecked.
Third, collective punishment is a common form of discipline in the Army because everyone needs to watch out for everyone else in order to survive in combat.

To Army eyes this was a clear case of indiscipline, and no action was ever taken against Lear. However, Lear was dissatisfied with the performance of Truman's division in the Louisiana manoeuvres later that year and relieved Truman of his command.

The derogatory nickname "Yoo-Hoo" stuck. The Arlington National Cemetery website records that

When he returned from Europe as a Lieutenant General in July 1945, he was piped ashore from transport in Boston by hundreds of GI's shouting "Yoo-Hoo." Ramrod straight, he walked down gangplank in stony silence.

A poor sort of thing to say on such a site I think.

Tags: military

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