George C. Marshall's Most Treasured Memory

Journal of Peter Y. Chou (Tuesday, March 19, 1991)


The last time I was here, there was a book on General George C. Marshall which I knew Dad would love to read, but it was checked out. I told him that I'll get it for him the next time when I visit Mountain View, and now I feel obliged to fulfill my promise. Dad met General Marshall when President Truman sent him to Nanking, China in 1946-47 to negotiate a truce in the civil war between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung. Dad, a History Professor and a member of the Young China Party, felt that he was more objective politically than those in the Kuomintang or the Communist Party as to the future well-being of China. Thus, he got along well with Marshall and became his friend, visiting him in Washington at the Pentagon and the State Department.

When I was 14 years old, and we were moving to our first house in New York. I found an airmail letter among Dad's old letters and newspaper clippings that Mom was throwing away. The letter was addressed to Dad at the Chinese Delegation at the United Nations, Palais de Chaillot, Paris, postmarked January 18, 1952. The addressee was General G.C. Marshall, Office of the Chief of Staff, Washington D.C. The neatly typed and well-centered letter thanked Dad for his December 31 telegram, its good wishes on his birthday and for the New Year: "I particularly appeciate the fact that you remembered the occasion at a time when you must be weighed down by heavy problems. Faithfully yours, G.C. Marshall" What attracted me in this letter was Marshall's signature in bold black ink— the sweeping stroke of fluid motion from a man of decision and action. Dad often thanked me for saving this momento for him, and he would always speak fondly of Marshall, saying that he was a man of character. But how is character developed? Is it something we are born with, or nurtured by life's experience? Can it be learned, or is it a gift of grace?

Now in the library, I find Leonard Mosley's 1982 biography Marshall: Hero for Our Times. As I browse through the book, I learn that Churchill had called Marshall "an organizer of victory, the last great American." Truman had praised him as "the greatest of the great in our time." Marshall was a five-star general, Chief of Staff during World War II, orchestrating the battle fronts in Asia and Europe. Later he served as Secretary of State and Defense. He was Time magazine's "1944 Man of the Year" and the 1953 Nobel Laureate for Peace for his Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe. But Marshall's favorite memory was not any of those worldly achievements.

Because an uncle had died from rabies, Marshall was deprived of having a dog in his childhood. So Marshall lavished his affections on a schoolmate's scrub-haired terrier, a disobedient dog scared to fight with bigger dogs, and howled loudly when he was beaten. Young Marshall would take the dog on long walks in the countryside, taught him to swim in streams, catch rabbits, quails, bobwhites, and wild turkeys. When his friend came to look for his missing dog, Marshall would whistle and Trip, the terrier would appear. After leaving Uniontown, Pennsylvania for some years, he learned that his schoolmate had died. He returned and found Trip, an old terrier, lying out in the yard. But the dog didn't bark and even resented his petting. He talked to Trip, hoping to stir some old memories. After ten minutes, Trip took a careful sniff of him, sniffed again and again, and then just went crazy. He had finally gotten a scent in his old nostrils and remembered his long-lost childhood companion. This then was Marshall's most treasured memory.


On leaving the Mountain View Library, my eyes became moist, the wind was whistling through the birches and raindrops fell upon the olive tree at the entrance, its open basket-like branches collecting tears as if they were crystal jewels from the sky. And somehow, I feel as if I had collected a beautiful rare gem after reading Marshall's joyful reunion with Trip. I could sense that precious moment where one's character would be forged in that cauldron of childhood where a sense of grace would endow a person's life with courage and compassion.


As Dad and I have cookies and dessert at the kitchen table, I share with him Marshall's childhood experience with Trip, the terrier dog. Dad loves the story, and gives me a firm handshake, telling me that "Marshall's handshake was always strong and firm. He was a tall man, living a life of rectitude." And today, I've found a great pearl beyond price, I know now why Dad loves General Marshall so much, and my affection for Dad and Marshall have increased. And I think of some of my dear friends who have sniffed me out like the terrier Trip, and recognized that close spiritual comraderie between us spanning perhaps many lifetimes. When the British writer Paul Brunton introduced me to the Swiss sculptor, Claire Pierpont in Lausanne in 1978, she asked him, "Did you two just meet?" and PB said, "Oh, no, we have known each other for a long time." And every time I recall that moment, my hairs would stand on edge, and my heart would go wild, perhaps like Trip that day, when he found that his true friend had returned.

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (6-22-2000)