Remembering One Veteran

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 11-11-2021
Veterans Day - a time to remember; so here is the tale of a veteran who, one can fairly say, lived a full life.

It is a scene straight out of Hollywood: the JAG (Judge Advocate General - military lawyer) volunteering to conduct a dangerous reconnaissance mission in enemy territory. Except it was real. 

In November 1918, the 76th Field Artillery Regiment, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID - Rock of the Marne, MG Joseph Dickman commanding) was tasked to provide artillery support to the division for operations near Louppy-le-Chateau, a town about half way between Metz and Champagne, a bit more than 100 miles east of Paris.

But they needed some reconnaissance of the enemy positions. And while reconnaissance in World War I already involved aircraft and cameras, there was also a need to get a forward observer to “get eyeballs on” the target area, which meant leaving the trenches and going into no-mans land…

And so the JAG for the 6th Corps, looking to do a bit more than his part, volunteered. He successfully completed the mission and returned alive. For his successful completion of the mission under heavy enemy fire he was awarded a Silver Star.

The man was Patrick Jay Hurley.

He was born January 8th, 1883 in Barretstown, Waterford County, Ireland to Pierse and Mary Ann Hurley. Later that year his parents decided it was time to go and they headed to the US with Patrick and his three sisters. He would end up with 3 brothers and 2 more sisters. The family moved west and settled in the Oklahoma Territory.

Patrick grew up surrounded by Choctaw, with whom he would hunt and ride. He worked as both a cowboy and worked in a coal mine, and attended what was then known as Indian College - now Bacone College - in Muskogee, Oklahoma, graduating in 1907. He went on to receive a law degree from National University in 1908 and settled in Tulsa to practice law, eventually becoming the lawyer for the Choctaw nation.

After the war he continued his work as a lawyer, and entered into Republican Party politics. In 1929, as President Hoover filled out his cabinet, he nominated James W. Good, a lawyer and former Congressman, as his Secretary of War (predecessor to the Secretary of Defense) and Patrick Hurley became the Assistant Secretary of War (at that time, the number 2 in the Department). However, in September of that year Wood died from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, and Hoover chose to simply raise Hurley to the Secretary’s position rather than nominate someone else again. Hurley served through the remainder of the Hoover administration.

It is worth noting that Hurley was the Secretary of War while a certain Douglas MacArthur was the Chief of Staff of the Army. Hurley had been in the chain of command when President Hoover instructed MacArthur to not across the Anacostia bridge - which would thereby bring a clash with the Bonus Army. Hurley had given that order to MG Moseley, the Deputy Chief of Staff. Moseley then ensured that MacArthur did not receive the order - a fact later verified by a fellow named Eisenhower - and so MacArthur crossed the bridge, with all the resulting violent rout of the Bonus Army. (Read Perret’s “Old Soldiers Never Die” for a short but sharp rebuke of Moseley, who Perret labels “a fascist” and “anti-Semite.”)

After leaving the Hoover administration, Hurley continued to practice law, but also remained in the Army reserves. By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor Hurley was a colonel in the Army Reserves. And so it was, just a short while after Pearl Harbor, in early 1942, Patrick Hurley, Army Reserve Colonel, former Secretary of War, and lawyer for the Choctaw Nation, walked into the Department of the Army and offered his services.

Eisenhower was quick to act. Hurley was spot promoted to Brigadier, Eisenhower and Leonard Gerow (who Eisenhower had just relieved as head of War Plans) each gave Hurley a star of their own uniforms, promoted him on the spot, briefed him on the current situation and gave him his orders:
- Proceed to Australia and arrange for whatever support you can to the US troops still on Bataan (the Bataan peninsula on the island of Luzon in the Philippines)
- Set up facilities for the US to conduct operations out of Australia

To accomplish this they gave him some money: $10 million in cash. He was on a plane headed to Australia that very night.

To put that in perspective, the average price of a car at the time was a bit less than $1,000 (today it is over $35,000). In short, this would be equivalent to being sent out the door today with well in excess of a quarter of a billion in cash.

Hurley got to Australia and executed his orders as best he could. He managed to load six ships with supplies and get them headed to Bataan, though only three got through. Bataan fell on April 9th and Corregidor on May 6th, 1942.

With the fall of Bataan Hurley was sent to New Zealand as the first US ambassador, and after setting up that office, was sent by President Roosevelt to Moscow as his personal representative to Stalin and remained there for nearly a year, during which time he witnessed the Russian counter attack in Stalingrad (November 1942) and became the only American to tour the Soviet Far East during the war. From there he went to Tehran in late 1943 to set up the Tehran summit, and then in 1944 he became the US Ambassador to China.

As such, Hurley had the unenviable position of trying to find the middle ground between General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell and Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, while also trying to get Mao and the Communists to cooperate and actually engage the Japanese Army.

Hurley was, in the end, unable to get these conflicting groups to work together. It didn’t help that there were elements within the US government who found Hurley to be unpolished, his language too salty (in addition, he would at times enter a Choctaw war cry from his youth into the conversation), and he did not mesh well with the more traditional members of the foreign service.

In the end, Hurley came to believe that the Chinese Communists were a grave threat and that we should have made an effort then and there, at the end of the war, to defeat them. He was ridiculed by the intelligentsia for his views, who insisted that the Chinese Communists represented the best future for China, and that Mao and the CCP would be liberal and democratic. But, in the wake of more than 70 million dead in China at the hands of the Communist Party, Tianamen Square, Uighur concentration camps, etc., it would seem that Hurley was right and the others were wrong.

After the war he moved to New Mexico and was involved in uranium mining and ran for office several times. He died in 1963.

He fought in World War I and World War II, served his nation as Secretary of War, and as an ambassador several times, a lawyer who also built a successful business… Pretty good for a poor immigrant’s son who grew up on the Great Plains; Major General Patrick Jay Hurley.

Thank you to Arthur Waldron for helping me fill in some of the details of Hurley’s life and to my brother Mark, himself a JAG, for first bringing Hurley’s colorful life to my attention.