Major General James A. Ulio Cover

Major General James A. Ulio

How the Adjutant General of the Army Enabled Allied Victory

Alan E Mesches

Casemate, Havertown, Pennsylvania, 2020, 216 pages

Book Review published on: March 26, 2021

In Major General James A. Ulio: How the Adjutant General of the Army Enabled Allied Victory, Alan Mesches offers a comprehensive biographical examination of the influence of Maj. Gen. James Ulio upon the U.S. Army’s success during World War II. Ulio, the son of a soldier, enlisted in the Army in 1900, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1904, and served his nation for over forty years, including the two world wars. Although he never attended formal university instruction, he attained the rank of major general and position of adjutant general of the Army during World War II.

In 1775, upon seeing a need for Army-wide administrative organization and synchronization, the Continental Congress established the position of adjutant general based upon the Latin word adjuture, to assist, and assist is exactly what Ulio did. For many decades, Ulio filled numerous high- and low-profile positions within the Adjutant General’s Corps. They ranged from military aide to presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt to a myriad adjutant general duties in many small and large organizations that included future presidents Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. However, it was during World War II when Ulio served in his most prominent position as the Army’s adjutant general that most of his significant and enduring impacts on Army processes, procedures, and culture are observed.

The first significant challenge Ulio inherited was the rapid and orderly growth of the Army from roughly two hundred thousand soldiers at the onset of World War II to its ultimate end strength of over eight million soldiers in uniform. Recognizing the need for increased personnel strength, Ulio lobbied for and won acceptance of his plan to reduce the selective service registration age from twenty-one to eighteen. His concept of expanding the personnel supply pool by establishing registration requirements at age eighteen is still in effect today.

Global war, technological innovation, and the sheer size of opposing forces presented the army with new challenges with none more important, unfortunate, and uncomfortable than casualty notification. World War II’s large-scale combat operations often resulted in high casualty rates in distant battlefields spread throughout two areas of operation on opposite sides of the world. Ulio recognized immediately that the war effort would require persistent support from the home front to succeed. Uninformed families equaled reduced support for the war effort. The general implemented a partnership program with emerging telegraph technology providers to report updated information on deployed family members. Many, if not most, of the telegrams provided by the Army were unpleasant but Ulio insisted that transparency and accuracy were foundational elements in American society and that the Army had a fiduciary responsibility to keep its greatest resource informed. His theory was correct. Millions of Americans effected with life-altering news continued to fully support the war effort throughout its conclusion. At the peak of World War II, the adjutant general’s staff sent up to six thousand telegrams per day. By the completion of his two-plus years as the Army’s adjutant general, Ulio personally signed and ensured the rapid delivery of over nine hundred thousand casualty notifications. His detailed casualty notification process marked a distinct evolution in existing Army processes and remains the founding principle of the current Army casualty notification program.

Ulio was intelligent, compassionate, and insightful. His thorough understanding of processes, efficiencies, and in many cases, inequities, resulted in several groundbreaking decisions that remain cornerstones of the Army’s success today. In 1944, Ulio ordered the integration of Army transportation and recreational facilities both home and abroad, effectively rescinding the Army policy of segregation. Additionally, he recognized the need to include women in the Army and home front support structure. Ulio’s team identified over two hundred Army assignments women could undertake, integrated the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (WAC), and even provided oversight to the physical training standards for women by overseeing the production of WAC Field Manual 35-20, Physical Training. All of these initiatives are found fully ingrained in the Army today.

Although he passed quietly in 1958 and was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery, Ulio’s dedication to his country, the Army, and to American society remain remarkable. Whether serving as an advisory council member for the Civilian Conservation Corps or developing Military Occupational Specialties testing and assignment standards, Ulio was a visionary. The volume of initiatives researched and presented by the author are far too many to address in this review. Some of the general’s recognized achievements could be attributed to military innovation, the superior work of subordinates, and/or the gravity of the situation. However, Mesches’ research overwhelmingly demonstrates that the general was a transformational leader, that he significantly reinterpreted and expanded the roles and responsibilities of the Army’s Adjutant General Corps, and in many ways, was a secret weapon in the success of the Army during World War II as well as today.

Book Review written by: Victor S. Hamilton, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas