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Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall (July 18, 1900 – December 17, 1977) was a chief U.S. Army combat historian during World War II and the Korean War. Known professionally as S. L. A. Marshall, and nicknamed "Slam" (the combination of all four of his initials), he authored some 30 books about warfare, including Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action, which was made into a film of the same name. However, his legacy is mired in scandal, as he lied about his involvement in the primary events he wrote about.

S.L.A. Marshall
S.L.A. Marshall.jpg
Born(1900-07-18)July 18, 1900
Catskill, New York
Died17 December 1977(1977-12-17) (aged 77)
El Paso, Texas
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchEmblem of the United States Department of the Army.svg United States Army
Years of service1917–1960 (non-consecutive)
RankUS-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Unit90th Infantry Division.patch.svg 90th Infantry Division (WWI)
Eighth United States Army CSIB.svg Eighth Army (Korean War)
Battles/warsPancho Villa Expedition
World War I
World War II
Korean War
AwardsLegion of Merit ribbon.svgLegion of Merit
Bronze Star Medal ribbon.svgBronze Star Medal (2)
Combat Infantry Badge.svgCombat Infantryman Badge
Other workauthor

Early and personal lifeEdit

Marshall was born in Catskill, New York on July 18, 1900, the son of Caleb C. and Alice Medora (Beeman) Marshall.[1] He was raised in Colorado, California and El Paso, Texas, and worked as a child actor for Essanay Studios while living in California.[2] Marshall attended El Paso High School after his family relocated to Texas.[2]

Marshall's first marriage was to Ruth Elstner, and they had a son before divorcing.[2] His second wife, Edith Ives Westervelt, died in 1953.[2] His third wife was Catherine Finnerty, with whom he had three daughters.[2]


Early military serviceEdit

He joined the Army in 1917 and saw service on the border with Mexico during the Pancho Villa Expedition before serving in France during World War I. He attained the rank of sergeant while serving as a member of Company A, 315th Engineer Regiment, 90th Infantry Division.[2] The 315th Engineers participated in the Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives.[3]

Shortly after Saint-Mihiel, Marshall was one of the soldiers in his unit selected to take the entrance examinations for the United States Military Academy as part of an Army initiative to replenish the officer corps with exceptional soldiers from the ranks.[4] Marshall subsequently attended Officer Candidate School, received his commission in early 1919, and remained in France to assist with post-war demobilization.[4]

After Marshall's discharge at the end of the war, he remained in the Reserve, attended the Texas College of Mines (now the University of Texas at El Paso), and worked at a variety of jobs, including bricklayer.[5] In the early 1920s, he became a newspaper reporter and editor, first with the El Paso Herald, and later The Detroit News. As a reporter, Marshall gained a national reputation for his coverage of Latin American and European military affairs, including the Spanish Civil War.[6] In 1940, Marshall began a career as an author with the publication of Blitzkrieg: Armies on Wheels, an analysis of the tactics the Wehrmacht developed in the years leading up to the start of World War II.[7]

World War II combat historianEdit

During World War II, Marshall was an official Army combat historian, and came to know many of the war's best-known Allied commanders.[2] He conducted hundreds of interviews of both enlisted men and officers regarding their combat experiences, and was an early proponent of oral history techniques.[2] In particular, Marshall favored the group interview, where he would gather surviving members of a front line unit together and debrief them on their combat experiences of a day or two before.[2]

Marshall's work on infantry combat effectiveness in World War II, titled Men Against Fire, is his best-known and most controversial work. In the book, Marshall claimed that of the World War II U.S. troops in actual combat, 75% never fired at the enemy for the purpose of killing, even though they were engaged in combat and under direct threat.[2] Marshall argued that the Army should devote significant training resources to increasing the percentage of soldiers willing to engage the enemy with direct fire.[2] These findings were later challenged as mistaken or even fabricated;[8][9] Marshall himself reported far more men fired weapons during the Vietnam War.[9]

Less well known, but perhaps more significant was Marshall's effort to assemble German officers after the war to write histories and analyses of battles in all theatres of the European war. At the height of the project, over 200 German officers participated, including Heinz Guderian and Franz Halder. Hundreds of monographs came out of the project, of which three are available in commercial print.[a]

Later military serviceEdit

Marshall was recalled in late 1950 for three months' duty as a Historian/Operations Analyst for the Eighth Army during the Korean War. He collected his numerous Korean combat interviews into a treatise analyzing U.S. infantry and weapons effectiveness, Commentary on Infantry and Weapons in Korea 1950–51. The U.S. Army decided to classify some of Marshall's findings as restricted information, later incorporating them as part of a plan to improve combat training, weapons, equipment, and tactics.[10]

Following his retirement from the Army Reserve in 1960 with the rank of brigadier general, Marshall continued to serve as an unofficial adviser to the Army.[2] As a private citizen, he spent late 1966 and early 1967 in Vietnam on an Army-sponsored tour for the official purpose of teaching his after-action interview techniques to field commanders, in order to improve data collection for both the chain of command and the future official history of the Vietnam War.[2] The Army Chief of Military History's representative on the tour, Colonel David H. Hackworth, collected his own observations from the trip and published them as The Vietnam Primer, giving Marshall credit as co-author.[11]


Marshall died in El Paso, Texas, on December 17, 1977, and was buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery, Section A, Grave 124.[2]


The University of Texas at El Paso library has a special collection built around his books.[12]

Marshall appears as a character in Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood, a video game released in 2005.[13]

The series 3 Black Mirror episode, "Men Against Fire" (2016), was partly inspired by Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command and explores the same themes.[14]

Controversy after deathEdit

Some veterans and historians have cast doubt on Marshall's research methods.[15] Professor Roger J. Spiller (Deputy Director of the Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College) argues in his 1988 article, "S. L. A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire" (RUSI Journal, Winter 1988, pages 63–71), that Marshall had not actually conducted the research upon which he based his ratio-of-fire theory. "The 'systematic collection of data' appears to have been an invention."[16] This revelation has called into question the authenticity of some of Marshall's other books and has lent academic weight to doubts about his integrity that had been raised in military circles even decades earlier.[17]

In his 1989 memoir, About Face, David H. Hackworth described his initial elation at an assignment with a man he idolized, and how that elation turned to disillusion after seeing Marshall's character and methods firsthand. Hackworth described Marshall as a "voyeur warrior", for whom "the truth never got in the way of a good story", and went so far as to say, "Veterans of many of the actions he 'documented' in his books have complained bitterly over the years of his inaccuracy or blatant bias".[18][19]

Veracity of World War I experience claimsEdit

A 1989 article by historian Frederic Smoler questioned Marshall's research methods as a historian, indicating that Marshall had exaggerated and inflated his World War I experiences to give himself a reputation for having led soldiers in combat, which would enhance his credibility as a historian. Smoler contended that the 315th Engineers were a rear-echelon unit, and that Marshall did not participate in combat during the war.[20][21]

Subsequent investigation by Marshall's grandson, John Douglas Marshall, included in his book Reconciliation Road: A Family Odyssey of War and Honor details S. L. A. Marshall's contemporary letters to his father. These letters indicate that Marshall took part in both Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne, and was "slightly" gassed at Saint-Mihiel. In addition, John Douglas Marshall's book recounts S. L. A. Marshall's inscription inside the front cover of his World War I scrapbook, which he dedicated to a fellow 315th Engineers soldier who was killed in action on November 8, 1918. According to the inscription, the soldier was shot by Germans while the 315th Engineers were taking part in action near Bantheville during the final days of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and Marshall was with him when it happened. John Marshall's subsequent investigation revealed that the friend was hit by artillery fire, not shot, and that S. L. A. Marshall was not present because he was taking the West Point entrance exams that day.[22] John Marshall ultimately concluded that, while his grandfather exaggerated some claims about his wartime experiences, many are valid, and that the body of his grandfather's later work still has value.[23]

Medals and decorationsEdit


Partial list of books (by title)Edit

  • Blitzkrieg: Armies on Wheels (1940)
  • Bastogne: The Story of the First Eight Days... (1946)
  • Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command (1947)
  • The Soldier's Load and The Mobility of a Nation (1950)
  • The River and the Gauntlet (1951)
  • Pork Chop Hill: The American Fighting Man in Action, Korea, Spring, 1953 (1956)
  • Sinai Victory: Command Decisions in History's Shortest War, Israel's Hundred-Hour Conquest of Egypt East of Suez, Autumn, 1956 (1958)
  • Night Drop: The American Airborne Invasion of Normandy (1962)
  • Battle at Best (1963)
  • World War I (1964)
  • Battles of the Monsoon (1965)
  • The Vietnam Primer (1967) (with David H. Hackworth)
  • Swift Sword: The Historical Record of Israel's Victory, June 1967 (1967)
  • Ambush (1968) (The battle of Dau Tieng)
  • Bird; the Christmastide battle (1968)
  • The fields of bamboo : Dong Tre, Trung Luong, and Hoa Hoi, three battles just beyond the South China Sea (1971)
  • Crimsoned Prairie (1972)
  • Bringing Up the Rear: A Memoir (1979) (posthumous autobiography)


  1. ^ see Anvil of War: German Generalship in Defense of the Eastern Front, edited by Peter G. Tsouras, 1994


  1. ^ Burdett, Thomas F. (June 15, 2010). "Biography: Marshall, Samuel Lyman Atwood". Handbook of Texas Online. Austin, TX: Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved May 13, 2018.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Biography: Marshall, Samuel Lyman Atwood".
  3. ^ United States War Department, Battle Participation of Organizations of the American Expeditionary Forces, 1930, page 37
  4. ^ a b Marshall, John Douglas (2000). Reconciliation Road: A Family Odyssey. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. pp. 50–57, 184. ISBN 978-0-295-97949-6.
  5. ^ Frederick Deane Goodwin Williams, SLAM, the Influence of S.L.A. Marshall on the United States Army, 1994, page 10
  6. ^ S.L. A. Marshall, Men Against Fire, 2012 edition, Introduction by Russell W. Glenn, page 2
  7. ^ Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, Blitzkrieg: Its History, Strategy, Economics and the Challenge to America, 1940, title page
  8. ^ [1] S. L. A. Marshall's Men Against Fire: New Evidence Regarding Fire Ratios
  9. ^ a b Men Against Fire: How Many Soldiers Actually Fired Their Weapons at the Enemy During the Vietnam War
  10. ^ S.L.A. Marshall, Commentary on Infantry and Weapons in Korea 1950–51, 1st Report ORO-R-13 of 27 October 1951, Project Doughboy [Restricted], Operations Research Office (ORO), U.S. Army (1951)
  11. ^ Hackworth, David H.; England, Eilhys (2002). Steel My Soldiers' Hearts. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-7432-4613-2.
  12. ^ University of Texas at El Paso, The UTEP Library's Special Collections Department, Description, S. L. A. Marshall Collection, retrieved March 7, 2014
  13. ^ Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood on YouTube, Chapter 1 - Bookends, retrieved March 7, 2014
  14. ^ "Black Mirror postmortem: Showrunner talks season 3 twists". Entertainment Weekly. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  15. ^ Robert Engen. "Killing for Their Country: A New Look At "Killology" (Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2)". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2011-05-08. As a military historian, I am instinctively skeptical of any work or theory that claims to overturn all existing scholarship – indeed, overturn an entire academic discipline – in one fell swoop...[however] Lieutenant Colonel Grossman’s appeals to biology and psychology are flawed, and that the bulwark of his historical evidence – S.L.A. Marshall’s assertion that soldiers do not fire their weapons – can be verifiably disproven.
  16. ^ Spiller, Roger J. (Winter 1988). "S. L. A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire". RUSI Journal. pp. 63–71..
    (Extracts are available on-line in an article criticizing Marshall Archived 2005-12-10 at the Wayback Machine)
  17. ^ Hunter, Evan (December 12, 2007). "Fire Away". Newsweek.
  18. ^ Hackworth, David (1989). About Face. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-52692-8. (See chapter 16.)
  19. ^ Elsby, Kevan (October 29, 2003). "The Royal Navy on Omaha Beach". WW2 People's War. London, UK: BBC. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  20. ^ U.S. Army Infantry School, Infantry magazine, Volume 79, 1989, page 3
  21. ^ U.S. Army War College, Parameters magazine, 2003, page 121
  22. ^ John Marshall, Reconciliation Road, pages 181-182
  23. ^ John Douglas Marshall, Reconciliation Road, pages 282-284

External linksEdit