December 9, 2017 – Being a Mentor

“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” ― Anonymous Greek Proverb

This quote was shared with me recently (love it) and the following story of a great man who inspired an American president, Secretary of State, and one of America’s greatest generals and I’ll bet you don’t know his name. This great man was a U.S. Army general who retired in the early 1930’s. He was the mentor to President and 5-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower, Secretary of State and 5-star general George C. Marshall, and General George Patton.  All three credited him with their success and being the person who guided their careers.  General John “Blackjack” Pershing, on whose staff this man served, said of him, “I could lose any man in the AEF (American Expeditionary Force) except you”. High praise.

Eisenhower served as this man’s Aide-de-Camp in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1920s for two years. Eisenhower called the next two years under this man his most profound period of military education. Eisenhower recalled in his memoirs that his mentor started him on an intense military history reading program. He readd Carl von Clausewitz’s On War repeatedly and worked to expand Eisenhower’s intellectual horizons by introducing him to the works of Plato, Tacitus, Nietzsche, and and even Shakespeare, particularly Shakespeare’s’ play, Henry the 5th.

Eisenhower adopted his mentor’s three important war-fighting lessons:

1. Never fight unless you have to

2. Never fight alone

3. Never fight for long

Every Army officers career depended on completing the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Eisenhower was blackballed because of a controversial article he wrote on the future of mechanized infantry. Eisenhower was Infantry and each branch was allocated only a certain number of slots every year, and the competition was intense. His mentor realized that it would be crime if Eisenhower wasn’t allowed to  go so he contacted an old West Point classmate, Major General Robert C. Davis, who  was now the adjutant general of the U.S. Army. Davis was responsible for, among other things, all personnel management actions, and so Conner had Davis arrange Eisenhower’s transfer to the Adjutant General’s Corps. Davis then gave Eisenhower one of the corps’ two Leavenworth slots.  Eisenhower went on to graduate first in his class. After Eisenhower’s graduation,his mentor and Davis transferred him back to the infantry and his meteoric career took off.

He advised Patton to go into the then infant U.S. Army tank corps. He also quietly advised Eisenhower and Marshall how to handle the volatile Patton throughout the war.

Marshall served with his mentor in WW1 on Pershing’s staff and often cited him in his memoirs for many of the same lesson’s that Eisenhower mentions. He worked behind the scenes to ensure Marshall was in the right jobs at the right time. Marshall even sent him the plans for the invasion of Europe while his mentor was retired asking for his advice and consent.

The mentor for these three men was Major General Fox Conner U.S. Army (retired). A name you probably never heard or read about, but whose mentoring ability and vision probably had as much to do with the Allied victory in WW2 as any other person. Be the Fox Conner for people around you and acknowledge you own Fox Conners when you achieve success.

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