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Author and educator Rachel Yarnell Thompson talks to Program for Applied Security Studies students about the life of George C. Marshall, the only person to serve as Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State during an afternoon lecture on Oct. 13.  (Marshall Center photo by Sgt. Amanda Moncada /RELEASED)

By James E. Brooks
George C. Marshall European Center Public Affairs Director

Personal stories and the life of Gen. George C. Marshall were shared this week by visiting author and educator Rachel Yarnell Thompson who shared passages and spoke to students in the center’s Program for Applied Security Studies class and a lunchtime gathering for staff and faculty. 

Thompson, who serves as the director for special projects at the George C. Marshall International Center in Leesburg, Va., read and shared stories from her book “Marshall A Statesman Shaped in the Crucible of War.”  She was inspired to write the book after volunteering at the historic Marshall House and Gardens where George C. Marshall lived from 1941 until his death in 1959.

“Writing this book was the hardest thing I ever did in my professional life.  For 17 years, I worked at the Marshall House, and I’ve learned from every angle and from talking to people who knew George Marshall.  I knew I had to tell this story,” explained Thompson. 

Achieving what seemed like an unconquerable challenge that became a 700-page introspection of one of the nation’s greatest soldier and statesman, Thompson shared her approach with staff and faculty here. 

“Writing this book took a lot of discipline.  I never thought of when will I get to the end of the book, but rather when will I get to the end of the chapter.  My husband would ask me ‘if I finished World War II?’, ‘Have I finished his tenure as Secretary of State?’, ‘Have I finished the Marshall Plan?’, just to see where I was in my progress,” said Thompson.

There was one more factor that was instrumental to her writing.

“Fear and humility were big factors in writing.  People knew I was writing a book, and they would keep asking if I was finished,” she added.

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Author and educator Rachel Yarnell Thompson poses with her book and Dean Robert Brannon after a lunchtime discussion with Marshall Center faculty and staff. Thompson shared how she wrote her book and more stories about the life of Marshall. (Marshall Center photo by James E. Brooks /RELEASED)

In writing her book, Thompson relied on six lengthy recorded interviews between Marshall and his chosen biographer Forrest C. Pogue.   According to the George C. Marshall Foundation, these interviews are the nearest approach to a memoir of Marshall’s later career than anything else.  Thompson also extensively used a seven-volume collection of Marshall’s official correspondence that spanned his career as the Army Chief of Staff during World War II, U.S. Secretary of State following World War II and as Secretary of Defense during the Korean War.

If he were alive today, what would George Marshall think about a strategic studies center named in his honor with the mission create to a more stable security through enduring international partnerships? Having spent 17 years closely examining the type of person Marshall was and seeing the center here on two occasions, Thompson has a pretty good idea what his opinion of the George C. Marshall European Center for Strategic Studies would be.  

“He would love the work the center is doing here.  Looking at the group I spoke to yesterday, I thought of it as the United Nations of Garmisch.  Marshall believed you need to establish dialogue.  You have to be able to talk, negotiate and think of new ways of solving problems. This place does just that.”

A copy of Thompson’s book, “Marshall A Statesman Shaped in the Crucible of War” was donated to the George C. Marshall European Center Research Library.  More information about the book can be found on the George C. Marshall International Center’s website.