"What Would You Do?"
On 14 May 1864, as William T. Sherman’s army lay near Resaca, Georgia, the 24th Wisconsin was acting as skirmishers during a divisional reconnaissance. The regiment ran into what one officer called “galling fire” from Confederate outposts which seriously wounded Col. Theodore S. West in the foot. Command of the regiment thereupon devolved upon the next senior officer, Maj. Arthur MacArthur. A tough, intelligent officer, since joining the army in 1862 as a result of hard fighting and good luck, MacArthur had risen from second lieutenant to major. MacArthur calmly held his men to their work until, their ammunition expended, he withdrew them in good order. Pulling back to some favorable terrain, he had them dig entrenchments and clear fields of fire before bedding them down for the night.
MacArthur was liked by his men and well regarded by his brigade commander, but some more senior officers in the army had their doubts about him. This is perhaps understandable, given that MacArthur was only eighteen at the time. So on the evening of the 14th, Brig. Gen. John Newton sent one of his aides, a 1st Lt. Sutherland, to check out the young warrior.
Sutherland encountered MacArthur near his defenses, speaking about the day’s events with one of his company commanders. The three talked for a while, looking across to the Confederate lines, barely a mile away. Quite suddenly, Sutherland asked, “Major, suppose the Rebs down there should make a charge and attempt to capture this position? What would you do?”
“Fight like hell!” came the quick response.
MacArthur kept his regiment, emerging from the war as a lieutenant colonel. Commissioned a captain in the Regular Army, MacArthur would spend some 20 years in garrison duty on the frontier, apparently never once coming under fire. A lieutenant colonel and assistant adjutant general when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers, commanding a brigade in the capture of Manila on August 13th. He then served in the Philippine-American War, becoming a brigadier general in the regular army. He later served as a military observer during the Russo-Japanese War, rising to lieutenant general before retiring in 1909. During a reunion in 1912, he died at the head of his old Civil War regiment, leaving behind two sons, one who would also attain some distinction as a soldier and the other (Arthur MacArthur III) as a sailor.
Civil War Note: Those with a greater interest in the events of 1861-1865 than is usually found in CIC might consider having a look at North & South, the official magazine of the Civil War Society, which has an impressive website, including the daily “Today in the Civil War”, which is maintained by StrategyPage.
"Rank hath its privileges": Some World War II Commanders and their Gals
In wartime men have sometimes been know to stray from their marital vows. Not all men, of course. During World War II, for example, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was remarkably devoted to his Lucia Maria, writing regularly and visiting home as often as possible (in fact, he was not in France on D-Day because he was at home celebrating her birthday). Hitler’s lackey Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel called his wife almost daily, while Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz wrote his Catherine virtually every day for the duration.
Not all notable commanders were quite that faithful.
- Omar Bradley, later general of the army, who commanded the Twelfth Army Group, allegedly would sometimes go off for quiet weekends with one or two WACs.
- Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Budyonny, perhaps the most well-mustachioed general in the war, had a series of female companions throughout the Great Patriotic War, not forming a sustained relationship with any of them.
- General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower was widely rumored to have had a long-term relationship with his British driver Kay Sommersby, who also served as his unofficial secretary and “Girl Friday” for most of the war. Although Ike even arranged for her to become an American citizen and a captain in the WACs, historians judge the evidence for an active affair to be rather slim, though agreeing that the two were quite close.
- Maj. Gen. Harry J. Collins, commander of the 42nd Infantry Division for the entire war, was a notorious looter (he even stole from Holocaust survivors), and was greatly disliked by his troops. While on occupation duty in post-war Austria, he had a liaison with the Austrian actress Irene Gehmacher. Collins arranged for one of his aides to marry her so she could enter the U.S. Once stateside, there were two speedy divorces, one his and one hers, after which the pair were married, later retiring to Austria.
- Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin, who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division, had a fling with the actress Marlene Dietrich in 1944-1945. This was a departure for Dietrich, as she usually favored frontline enlisted men as lovers. In fact, she once remarked that she had never slept with Eisenhower because he had never been at the Front.
- Luftwaffe Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim had a long affair with Hanna Reitsch, Hitler's favorite "girl" pilot. In the final hours of the Reich and under Der Führer’s direct orders, von Greim and Reitsch were the last people to fly out of embattled Berlin.
- During his spouse’s final illness in late 1944, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl (who had been born nine years’ before his parents wedding) began a relationship with his secretary and his wife’s friend, Luise Katharina von Benda, whom he later married.
- Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King was, as one historian put it, “well known for his many adulterous affairs”, often with the wives of his staff officers, entertaining them aboard his flagship the USS Dauntless (PG-61), a former luxury yacht which, tied up at the Washington waterfront.
- Marie Pierre Koenig, who rose to Marshal of France, had a long affair with Susan Travers, a British nurse who served as his driver, and was later awarded the Légion d'honneur, Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire, and enrolled as a warrant officer in the Foreign Legion, for her services in Syria, North Africa, France, and Indochina, often under fire.
- General George S. Patton, Jr., began a relationship with Jean Gordon (his wife’s half-sister’s daughter) about a decade before World War II, who killed herself when he died, leaving a note saying she could not live without him.
- In late 1941, Marshal of the Soviet Union Konstantin Rokossovskiy began a long relationship with Lt. Galina Talanova, a medical officer. The affair ended after the war, but the marshal continued to look after Talanova and their child.
- General Lucian Truscott, who commanded the Fifth Army in Italy, had a torrid fling in 1944 with the journalist and editor Clare Booth Luce, who was noted for a series of affairs.
- Lt. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, Douglas MacArthur’s chief-of-staff, began an affair with Australian Elaine Clarke in 1942, and managed to get her a commission in the Women’s Army Corps. The relationship was widely disapproved of among senior officers, including MacArthur, as she was married to a British officer who was prisoner-of-war of the Japanese. Despite this, Sutherland managed to keep Clarke with him until late 1944, when MacArthur ordered her sent back to Australia.
- Admiral of the Fleet Yamamoto Isoruku was quite devoted to Chiyoko Kawaii, his mistress from the early 1930s until his death, with whom he exchanged letters almost daily.
- Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukhov’s personal physician, Senior Lt. Lidia Zakharova, was also his Pokhodno-Polevaya Zhena – (Field Service Wife, or PPzh), their affair continuing for several years after the war.
Although many officers in all armies were likely to find some unofficial female companionship, having a mistress accompany them on campaign was particular common among Soviet, German, and Italian commanders, and on one occasion led to an interesting exchange between an American GI and a German general about the latter’s “Feld Frau”.
FootNote: This list, of course, is limited to commanders. Virtually all of the principal national leaders, on all sides of the war, had mistresses, excepting Winston S. Churchill.