Soon after the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, we were fighting a war on three fronts: Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa. At the start of the war, the U.S. Army had 200,000 soldiers, but millions more would be needed. The eventual task of recruiting, classifying and assigning the additionally needed soldiers would rest with Adjutant General James A. Ulio, whose hometown was Fargo.
The most sobering aspect of Ulio’s wartime duties was that he was the purveyor of bad news. It was his responsibility to notify families that the soldiers in their families had “died, suffered wounds, went missing or were being held prisoner by enemy forces.” It is estimated that during his time as adjutant general, 1942-46, Ulio sent nearly 900,000 telegrams that began with the words, "We regret to inform you."
During the 40 years that Ulio had served in the Army, he had risen from the rank of private to major general. He had been raised on military bases, because his father, James Ulio Sr., was an Army officer. From 1901 to 1911, Ulio Sr. was the head of the ROTC program at the North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU) in Fargo.
James Alexander Ulio Jr. had served with distinction during World War I in France, receiving the Army Distinguished Service Medal from President Woodrow Wilson. Between the world wars, Ulio was assigned to duties in the Adjutant General Corps (AGC) on four different occasions — 1922-23, 1926-30, 1931-33, and 1934-35 — before becoming assistant adjutant general in 1938, and then adjutant general on March 1, 1942.
The AGC is primarily responsible for providing adequate service personnel through the recruitment and retention of troops. It is also responsible for "personnel accounting, strength reporting, casualty management, replacement operations, postal operations, morale, welfare, and recreational support."
While serving in the AGC, Ulio worked on "insuring veterans of their benefits and reducing delays of those benefits," and serving as a military aide-de-camp (confidential secretary in routine matters), for Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. For most of his service while in the AGC, Ulio was stationed in Washington, D.C. He also served in Germany as part of the occupational force after World War I and was later assigned to Armenia and Greece.
In February 1935, Ulio was assigned to the Hawaiian Department to serve as aide-de-camp to the commanding officer, Gen. Hugh A. Drum. In 1898, the U.S. annexed the island of Hawaii and declared it a territory of the U.S. In 1935, Japan signed an alliance with Germany, and since one-third of the inhabitants of Hawaii were of Japanese descent, the U.S. was concerned that Japan might take some sort of aggressive action to disrupt our ownership of the island.
From June to September of 1935, Ulio "headed the service command section, responsible for planning for the contingency of a blockade of the islands." On Aug. 1, 1935, he was promoted to colonel and named chief of staff of the Hawaiian Department.
In May 1938, Ulio became one of the three assistant adjutant generals of the U.S. Army and returned to Washington, D.C. In 1939, the Army revived the Morale Division (later renamed “Special Services”), which had been inactive for 16 years, and assigned Ulio to oversee it. He was promoted to brigadier general on Dec. 28, 1939, and, in 1941, officially established the Army sports and music programs.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on Dec. 7, 1941, prompting the U.S. to enter World War II, many young men enlisted in the Army. Maj. Gen. Emory Adams was the adjutant general and Ulio was one of his three assistants. Although the influx of soldiers had been greatly increased, several factors became clear. Many of the soldiers were physically or mentally unfit, and many of the inductees were often assigned to positions to which they were unsuited.
Adams retired on Feb. 28, 1942, and Ulio became his replacement the following day, and was promoted to major general. "One of Ulio's first directives was that every (new inductee) would get a chest X-ray." In the past, "many inductees had tuberculosis," and this did not show up until later, causing disruptions in the progressive flow of training. Also, in the past, "the Army rejected inductees with venereal diseases," but because of improved methods of treatment, Ulio put a stop to that restriction.
Midway through 1942, the Army had grown to over 1.5 million soldiers, a mark that was still far short of what was needed. Ulio began a push, along with Maj. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey, the director of the Selective Service System, to lower the draft age from 20 to 18.
In November 1942, Congress lowered the draft age to 18, and this caused a great deal of concern, especially for the parents of teenage sons who they feared would be sent into combat when they were inadequately trained. At first, Ulio kept teenagers and fathers of small children from being sent to battlefield sites but, "as casualties mounted," Ulio was forced to withdraw this restriction.
One of the things that Ulio must have found pleasing was how the students and faculty at NDAC were responding to the war effort, especially since his father had been instrumental in developing the ROTC program at the school. NDAC reestablished compulsory military training for all male students, began offering classes relating to the war, and established a "war council" that dealt with "student morale, sale of war bonds and stamps, defense, civil air patrol, student recruitment, and the Red Cross."
The biggest boost to the war effort at NDAC was the creation of the Officer Candidate School (OCS) on Sept. 21, 1942. Army officers taught the courses and 335 candidates were admitted every four weeks for courses that lasted 12 weeks. On Oct. 30, Ulio came to Fargo to observe the OCS facilities and instruction, and was very impressed.
At the last OCS graduation at NDAC, Ulio returned to Fargo to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Military Science. During the time that the OCS program was in operation at the college, 2,139 men graduated and received commissions to serve in the U.S. Army.
At first, when Ulio became adjutant general, he was determined to place the recruits in positions that reflected their aptitudes, desires and positions of past civilian employment. To do this, "inductees were given mechanical, technical and clerical aptitude tests, and interviewed by personnel staff."
However, as the war went on, many good combat soldiers were being siphoned off and Ulio was forced to change the classification structure so that inductees who now tested well in "stamina, upper and lower limbs strength, hearing, eyesight, and emotional stability" were classified as fit "for strenuous combat duty."
One of the changes that Ulio made that had a lasting impact on the Army had to do with racial and gender segregation. In 1944, Ulio issued an order that officially ended this type of segregation in regards to military transportation and in recreational facilities on Army posts. Also that year, Ulio became responsible for the supervision of the Army's penal system. This was an additional responsibility to go along with administering the National Service Life Insurance and the Army Postal Service.
As adjutant general, Ulio increased the number of soldiers from 200,000 to 8.2 million. According to author Alan Mesches in his book "Major General James A. Ulio: How the Adjutant General of the U.S. Army Enable Allied Victory," "In many ways, Ulio became the face of the Army during the war, through radio addresses, newspaper interviews, and public appearances. He served as a troop morale booster, advocate, and cheerleader for the war effort. Finally, he led demobilization planning to bring home millions of soldiers after the war, transitioning them back into civilian life."
On Jan. 21, 1946, Ulio retired from the Army, five months after the surrender of Japan. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his "distinguished services to the U.S."
Ulio joined the supermarket chain Food Fair as vice president for three years, and then served on the board of the United Services Life Insurance Co. during the 1950s.
Maj. Gen. James A. Ulio Jr. died on July 30, 1958, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at email@example.com.