John Gardner was enjoying life as an East Coast college professor when the United States entered World War II in 1941. It was then that he had his first exposure to public service, moving to Washington, DC, to analyze enemy propaganda broadcast to Latin America. In 1943, Gardner entered the Marine Corps and the Office of Strategic Services, stationed first in Italy, then in Austria. He participated in the Allied Italian Campaign in 1943-1945, and was discharged with the rank of Captain.
As was true for so many of his generation, the rest of Gardner's life was shaped by the War. It was while serving in Europe that he took an interest in world affairs and, when returning to the US, that new opportunities began to emerge.
From my earliest years, I had thought of myself as a student, an observer, pleasantly detached from the mainstream of the world's action. From [the start of World War II] on, my life was to be governed by constant conflict between the life of action and the life of reflection.
Memoirs: World War II
Listen to Gardner reflect on some of the ways his war service influenced his later views on leadership.
Listen from 27:15 to 29:38
Letters from the Front
Read some of the letters Gardner wrote to his mother and grandmother while he was serving in World War II as a member of the Office of Strategic Services.