Robert Gates worked for eight American presidents, but the leader who inspired him most, said the former U.S. secretary of defense, was a person he’d never met.
That leader was Gen. George Marshall.
Gates had an opportunity Thursday morning to highlight Marshall’s leadership characteristics in a most appropriate event: the annual Marshall Lecture.
And it was an appropriate spot, not far from the house where Marshall lived in 1936-38 when he commanded troops at Vancouver Barracks.
Marshall can teach us a lot about character and service, Gates told the audience at Hudson’s Bay High School.
“He was the gold standard for character and moral courage,” Gates said.
After the lecture, presented by the Fort Vancouver National Trust, Gates visited students at Marshall Elementary.
Gates had a long career in the Central
Intelligence Agency before serving as secretary of defense under President George W. Bush and then President Barack Obama.
Gates had an inside view of pivotal moments in modern history — including some that were part of Academy Award winner “Argo” and fellow Oscar nominee “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Gates noted that Marshall’s career included history-making moments, where his character helped form wartime decisions.
During World War I, then-Capt. Marshall was on the staff of Gen. John Pershing. He was a hard-nosed general at the best of times, but the war in France was not going well, and “Blackjack” Pershing was in a foul mood. Marshall had some advice for Pershing about how to improve things.
“How courageous, to stand up to Pershing and tell him things he needed to know,” Gates said. His fellow officers figured Marshall was headed for the trenches, but Pershing paid attention.