5. The Army embarrassed itself over its transport capabilities in 1919
In an ill-advised effort to demonstrate to the public its long-distance transport capabilities, the US Army organized a cross-country caravan in 1919. They invited reporters from major national newspapers along for the ride. Over 80 vehicles including trucks, ambulances, tankers, passenger cars (for the reporters), troop carriers, and field kitchens, as well as a pontoon boat, carried 254 enlisted men and over two dozen officers. Among the officers was temporary Lt. Col. Dwight David Eisenhower. Ike volunteered when the boredom of his posting at Fort Meade, Maryland, simply became too much to bear. At Fort Meade, Eisenhower’s chief duty, he later lamented, was serving as a fourth when senior officers needed one for a game of bridge. The massive caravan thundered out of Washington, DC, on July 7, 1919. Ike joined the train in Frederick, Maryland at the end of the first day.
It had covered just 46 miles and encountered several breakdowns. The disastrous beginning was a harbinger for the rest of the ordeal. Before they reached the west coast 62 days later, several incidents required the aid of local authorities and civilians to help them on their way. On at least one occasion stuck vehicles required horses to pull them out of the muck. Over the course of the Army’s demonstration of its transport capabilities, it averaged just 52 miles per day. The Army touted the caravan as a triumph, blaming the slow pace on inadequate roads across the western plains and mountain passes. The reporters along for the ride focused on the many breakdowns of the vehicles. Some opined the Army could not reasonably expect adequate roads when transporting men and materials under combat conditions. The experience of transport inadequacy remained with Eisenhower for the rest of his life.