America’s First 5-Star General

George Marshall did not distinguish himself in battle. However, he became the first General of the Army (five-star general) when he was promoted to the rank on December 16, 1944. He was the first of five generals to be assigned that rank. All of them were major leaders in World War II. (Click here for 30 of the most legendary warriors in history.)

Marshall was the Army’s Chief of Staff and ran most of World War II for President Franklin Roosevelt. He was the natural selection to become the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. Dwight Eisenhower, who became a General of the Army after Marshal did, ran the war in Europe and became the better-known of the two.

Marshall’s career had an unusual distinction. He was both the Secretary of Defense (1950 to 1951) and the Secretary of State (1947 to 1949). He also was sent to China to broker peace between the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists of Mao Zedong. The mission failed. Mao took over the mainland, and Chiang moved to Taiwan. The rift continues today, and the tension between China and Taiwan is considered a global military hot spot.

What is known as the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after World War II. The plan provided capital between 1948 and 1952.

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Prior to its beginning, Marshall defined the plan in a speech:

Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Any government that is willing to assist in recovery will find full co-operation on the part of the United States. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.

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Besides Marshall and Eisenhower, the only other five-star generals are Douglas MacArthur, Henry Arnold and Omar Bradley. George Patton might have been a candidate, but he died at the war’s end. On a similar footing in rank, there were several Admirals of the Fleet (five-star admirals). William Leahy, Ernst King, Chester Nimitz and William Halsey each ran a major part of the second world war in the Pacific. No one has held the rank since it was given to World War II leaders. Given the magnitude of the war, it is unlikely to happen again.

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