This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, the post-World War II effort to revitalize a devastated Western Europe.
In 1947, from London to Moscow, cities were flattened, economies destroyed, homes left in rubble, and millions of people displaced. In the midst of this destitution existed, as President Harry S. Truman observed, a breeding ground for the spread of communism throughout Europe.
So, for humane, economic, and political motivations, Congress approved the European Recovery Program, channeling $13 billion to rebuild the economies and infrastructure of war-torn countries.
While funds were offered to all countries, Stalin was suspicious and felt the United States would threaten Soviet influence in the Eastern bloc countries. He refused to participate, thus heralding a Cold War that would dominate world politics for the next 40 years.
Over its five-year existence, the program was hugely successful in meeting its goals of rebuilding and restoring Western Europe, and containing communism in the region. It was known more familiarly as the Marshall Plan, named for Gen. George C. Marshall, its primary architect and overseer.
Marshall (1880-1959) graduated from Virginia Military Institute and began a long and illustrious career in both the military and public service. In World War I, he served at the American Expeditionary Forces headquarters and is credited with planning the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Between wars, he worked as Gen. Pershing’s aide-de-camp and later served in China, Fort Benning, and headed the Illinois National Guard.
At the onset of World War II, Roosevelt appointed him chief of staff of the U.S. Army where he proved to be a strong administrator and global strategist. He served as secretary of state under President Truman and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in directing the Marshall Plan.
After retiring from the military, he served as special ambassador to China and president of the American Red Cross, but was called back from retirement during the Korean War to serve as secretary of defense. He finally retired from public service in 1951.
There was a time in this remarkable career when Marshall spent a few years in the Pacific Northwest.
Between 1936 and 1938, he was commander of the Army’s Third Division, 5th Infantry Brigade at Fort Vancouver, Washington.
Among his duties was supervising the 40 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps located in Oregon and southern Washington. His bi-weekly inspection tours afforded him the opportunity of visiting much of the Northwest and to familiarize himself with “the wonderful fishing streams.” He often remarked on the beauty of the area and hospitality of the people. Both he and his wife had many fond memories of their time here and made numerous permanent friends.
The house they occupied during this service was a spectacular Victorian, the crown jewel of what is known as Officers’ Row. As its name suggests, it is part of a collection of housing built in the late 1880s to accommodate Army officers and government officials stationed at Vancouver Barracks.
Today, these 22 beautifully-restored homes stretching along Evergreen Boulevard are occupied by businesses, nonprofits and private residences.
The most elegant is the Commanding Officer’s Quarters, known as the Marshall House, and is open to the public for free tours.
Built in 1886, it features numerous decorative elements of the Queen Anne style including a round turret, asymmetrical shape, steeply pitched roofs, wrap-around porch framed with spindles, and a triangular pediment.
The interior displays some remarkable woodwork, an impressive staircase, floor to ceiling windows and several fireplaces. There is a small museum featuring memorabilia about Marshall and a continuous video on Fort Vancouver and Officers’ Row.
Visitors may wander around the first floor and a volunteer is available to answer any questions about the house and Marshall. The second floor has several offices including those of Washington senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.
After a visit to the Marshall House and a stroll along Officers’ Row, it’s time for lunch at the Ulysses S. Grant house, the oldest home on the row.
Built in 1849, the house was never occupied by Grant, although he often frequented it as a young officer. Today, it is a full-service restaurant serving a selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees.
Learn more about visiting Officers’ Row as well as adjacent Fort Vancouver and Pearson Air Museum at fortvan.org.