Random Recollections
by FQC Gardner

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16. ASSISTANT TO THE CHIEF OF COAST ARTILLERY

Upon my arrival in Washington, in February, 1912, I found that General Leonard Wood, Chief of Staff, (who had emerged victorious in a long and bitter struggle with General Ainsworth, the Adjutant General of the Army, for control of the Army) had just reorganized the General Staff so that were two Assistants to the Chief of Staff, one (general Carter) to supervise the mobile Army, and the other (General Weaver, the Chief of Coast Artillery) to supervise the Corps of Engineers (except in River and Harbor work), the Ordnance Department and the Signal Corps (these three Departments being primarily those primarily concerned in the building of Fortifications); that General Weaver was to act for the Secretary of War in all matters pertaining to these services; and that I had been ordered to his office to handle all such matters in addition to taking over the functions of Colonel Callan in the office of the Chief of Coast Artillery, which included handling all matters pertaining to Submarine Mines and Searchlights. This organization continued in effect throughout my stay in Washington, and, for nearly a year, I was, in effect, Engineering Officer of the War Department, and I had to review and recommend action on all projects for construction and for Fortification work submitted by the three Services above mentioned and by the Quartermaster Department. I doubt if there are many people alive today who remember that such an organization was in effect at one time.

I was promoted to Captain on April 9, 1912. The fact that, with my low rank, I was able to pass, without hard feelings, upon the projects submitted by the senior officers of these Services, was due chiefly to the prestige presumably arising from my recent course of instruction at M.I.T. and to the fact that there were practically no other Army officers, at that time, who had had Postgraduate training in Electricity or Steam Engineering.

Among the interesting projects upon which I was engaged during this period I recall particularly these:

(1). The study and review of the policy (established by the Taft Board in 1906) governing the power installations for seacoast fortifications (to eliminate central steam power plants; to use local electric-gasoline sets in groups so connected as to afford maximum flexibility of operation in case of emergency; to provide for emergency use of commercial power, where available, as a reserve for the DC and AC needs of the fortifications).

(2). The redesign of all types of Submarine Mine structures to afford maximum speed and flexibility in their use.

(3) The study and layout of the submarine mine defenses for both ends of the Panama Canal (to move the mine fields out in front of the Canal entrances instead of placing them inside the Canal proper, as proposed by the Governor of the Canal Zone (General Goethals).

(4) The selection of the steam and electrical equipment to be installed at Corregidor.

General Weaver was a man whom all his Assistants could not but hold in high and affectionate regard. He inspired loyalty. Out of this resulted what was, for me, at the time, a difficult situation. Shortly after I arrived I was presenting my papers to him one morning. Among them was one in which a Harbor Defense Commander had recommended that the Mine Planters, during their tours of instruction within a Harbor Defense, should pass under the command of the Harbor Defense Commander (instead of remaining an independent command, as had always been the case). When I stated the nature of the paper he at once told me to approve the recommendation. I had given the matter considerable study and had prepared to discuss it in some detail with him, setting forth the pros and cons and concluding with the reasons why I recommended against the approval of the paper. I told him that I would like to discuss the matter with him before he made his decision. He replied that he had been considering the matter for some time and had made up his mind to approve the paper, that it wasn't necessary to discuss it further. For the first time in my career I was faced with the problem as to what constitutes real loyalty of a subordinate to his chief. I spent a restless night turning the problem over in my mind.

Next day, when I went in with my papers, I said to him; "General, before I present my papers I would like to talk to you about a matter that is giving me much concern. Yesterday, when I presented a paper about the command of Mine Planters, I felt that it was an important matter on account of its bearing on the efficiency of the Mine instruction. I had given it careful study and had secured the views of the Mine Planters Commanders and of some of the largest Harbor Defense Commanders. I had planned to lay the divergent views before you, to attempt to analyze them, and to state the reasons why, in my opinion, the paper should not be approved. However, you made your decision without giving me an opportunity for any discussion, and you were apparently somewhat annoyed when I asked to discuss the paper a little more. This is the first time that I have ever had a Staff position like this one, and I am not entirely sure that I know just what you expect of me. I have studied the matter over during most of the night. My conception of my duty to you is this: That when I am assigned a paper I am to give it the most careful study within my power; that I am then to present it to you, stating the arguments for and against it, and then to make my recommendations with the reasons therefor. I assume that you have some confidence in my judgment or else I would not be here. It is my desire to be absolutely loyal to you, in thought and in deeds. My conception of my loyalty to you is that it is my duty, if I have arrived at a conclusion that may be contrary to your own, to insist that I be allowed to present to you all the facts and arguments that I think you should know of before you make your final decision; but that after you have made such a decision it is my duty to carry that decision out without further question and in every respect as if it had been my own. If such a course of action is in any way inconsistent with your ideals of complete loyalty, then I feel that I must ask you to relieve me from my present assignment as one of your Assistants.

The old gentleman (he was about 60) looked at me for a few minutes. Finally, with repressed emotion, he said, "Gardner, I agree with everything you have said. I am sorry I was so abrupt with you yesterday. I had had a very trying morning. I shall try to be more understanding and considerate in future. Now go ahead and tell me about that paper." I did so, and he approved my recommendation.

During my time in his office I had occasion, in a number of instances, to differ with him on important matters of policy. In most cases he finally came around to my point of view (and to that of other members of the Staff) and he never held it against me that I had differed with him initially. He later gave me every encouragement and support during the five years that I was in charge of the Torpedo Depot, and I am sure that he never had occasion to doubt my complete loyalty or my deep affection.

At that time Aviation, which was in its infancy, was under the Signal Corps. There were only about half a dozen airplanes, of primitive design, in existence, and the Signal Corps was putting forth strenuous efforts to get officers interested enough in Aviation to apply for a detail in that arm. Two airplanes were sent to College Park, (just outside Washington) and all all officers on duty in the War Department were invited to come out and observe them in action. Major J. C. Nichols, an Assistant to the Chief of Ordnance, and I had become good friends. One afternoon, at closing hour, he came in my office and suggested that we go out to College Park and see the flying. I told him that I knew him well enough to know that if I went out there with him he would, in all probability, insist on going up for a flight, and that I did not care to take that responsibility. After considerable discussion as to the probability of a crash, he agreed that he would not go up, and we went out in the street car. There were several other officers present as observers and the Officer in Charge invited each of them, in turn, to go up for a short flight. Jesse shook his head several times. Finally, however, in disregard of my disapproval, as one of the planes made a landing he accepted the invitation to go up in it for a short flight. I was urged to go up in the other plane when it landed, but I declined. In a few minutes Jesse's plane landed with him. As he was walking over towards me the other plane crashed, within 50 feet of us, killing the pilot and the passenger. Jesse was very quiet and calm as we rode back to town in the street car. We were both fully aware how narrowly we had each escaped the fate of the observer riding in the second plane. I could not but think again of the delicate balance in the scales of Fate, of which I have spoken before.

I recall one other incident, not so serious in its aspect, at this time. Mr. H. L Stimson was the Secretary of War and his office was just across the hall from the office of the Chief of Coast Artillery. One day he came into my office, said he and Mrs. Stimson were going down to Fort Monroe on the Norfolk and Washington boat next day to witness some firings, and he asked me if I would like to go, accompanying him as his Aide. Although I had never acted as an Aide, I assured him that I would be very glad to go. I do not now recall any details of the trip down, or of the firings, all of which I assume went off pleasantly and satisfactorily. When we went aboard the boat for our return trip to Washington, I thought it would be a good idea for me to do something as an Aide, and, observing a newsboy on the wharf, I got three copies of the evening paper and gave Secretary Stimson and Mrs. Stimson each a copy. It happened that, on that day, President Taft had vetoed an Army Appropriation Bill because some entirely irrelevant proviso had been added by some special interest, to which he was, in principle, strongly opposed. Under big headlines in the paper was published Mr. Taft's veto message, and the three of us were sitting on the after deck reading the message. Finally Mr. Stimson asked me what I thought of the President's message. I replied that I considered that it was a very strong one and a very well written one. He asked me what particular part of the message I considered to be the best. I pointed out one of the paragraphs that I had thought to be outstanding. He said, "Do you know who wrote that paragraph?" I replied that I did not know, but that I had an idea that he (Mr. Stimson) had written it. He shook his head and, pointing at Mrs. Stimson, said, "She is the one who wrote it." I have never since been sure that any of the Biographies of Mr. Stimson that I have seen have given full credit to his wife.

Among the other Assistants to the Chief of Coast Artillery during the time that I was there were: Colonel R. P. Davis (my instructor at West Point and Director of the Department of Engineering at the Coast Artillery School when I was there); Captain S. D. Embick (who had persuaded me to transfer to the Coast Artillery; one of the ablest, if not the ablest, officers of Great General Staff caliber of his generation, and later Chief of Staff of General Bliss, on the Supreme War Council, in World War I, and eventually Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army); Captain C. E. Kilbourne (later Major General and also Superintendent of V. M. I.); Major W. R. Smith (one of my Instructors at West Point -- and one of the best ones -- later Major General and also Superintendent of the Military Academy) and Captain P. P. Bishop (with whom I was later closely associated for years and who has remained perhaps my best friend (he was Best Man at my wedding), later a Major General. These were all officers of outstanding ability, and I realized that I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be associated with them. I learned much from the.

I was promoted to Captain April 9, 1912.

Before I had completed a full year in Washington, Congress passed a law which prescribed that all line officers should serve at least two out of every six years in actual command of troops, and it became necessary to relieve me of duty in Washington and to assign me to duty with troops.

General Weaver (with the concurrence, if not at the suggestion of, Colonel Davis and Major Smith) decided to assign me to the command of the 135th (Mine) Company, at Fort Totten, N. Y., and, at the same time, as Disbursing Officer (Officer in Charge) of the Torpedo Depot, which was located at Fort Totten, where I arrived November 2nd, 1912.


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