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Five-star General of the Army insignia
General of the Army (GA) is a five-star general officer and is the second highest possible rank in the United States Army. A special rank of General of the Armies, which ranks above General of the Army, does exist but has only been conferred twice in the history of the Army. A General of the Army ranks immediately above a general and is equivalent to a Fleet Admiral and a General of the Air Force; there is no established equivalent five-star rank in the other four uniformed services. Often referred as a "five-star general," the rank of General of the Army is reserved for war-time use only and is not currently active in the U.S. military.

Post-American Civil War era

General of the Army shoulder strap insignia, 1866-1872 (Grant and Sherman).

On July 25, 1866, the U.S. Congress established the rank of "General of the Army of the United States" for General Ulysses S. Grant. When appointed General of the Army, Grant wore the rank insignia of four stars and coat buttons arranged in three groups of four.

Unlike the World War II rank with a similar title, the 1866 rank of General of the Army was a four-star rank. Unlike the modern four-star rank of general, only one officer could hold the 1866–1888 rank of General of the Army at any time.

General of the Army shoulder strap insignia, 1872-1888 (Sherman and Sheridan).

After Grant became President, he was succeeded as General of the Army by William T. Sherman, effective March 4, 1869. In 1872, Sherman ordered the insignia changed to two stars with the coat of arms of the United Statesmarker in between.

By an Act of June 1, 1888, the grade of lieutenant general was discontinued and merged in that of General of the Army, which was then conferred upon Philip H. Sheridan. (The cover of Sheridan's autobiography was decorated with four stars within a rectangle evocative of the four-star shoulder strap worn by Grant.) The rank of general of the Army ceased to exist upon the death of Sheridan on August 5, 1888 and the highest rank of the United States Army was again the two star major general rank.

World War II era

The second version of General of the Army was created by Pub.L. 78-482 passed on 14 December 1944, first as a temporary rank, then made permanent 23 March 1946 by an act of the 79th Congress. It was created to give the most senior American commanders parity of rank with their Britishmarker counterparts holding the rank of Field Marshal. The acts also created a comparable rank of Fleet Admiral for the Navy. This second General of the Army rank is not considered comparable to the American Civil War era version.

The insignia for General of the Army, as created in 1944, consisted of five stars in a pentagonal pattern, with points touching. The five officers who have held the 1944 version of General of the Army are:
      •   George Marshall 16 December 1944
      •   Douglas MacArthur 18 December 1944
      •   Dwight D. Eisenhower     20 December 1944
      •   Henry H. Arnold 21 December 1944
      •   Omar Bradley 20 September 1950

The timing of the first four appointments was coordinated with the appointment of the U.S. Navy's five-star Fleet Admirals (on 15, 17, and 19 December 1944) to establish both a clear order of seniority and a near-equivalence between the services.

The US Army did not introduce a rank of Field Marshal. The United States traditionally uses the term Marshal for a senior law enforcement officer, particularly the US Marshals, as well as formerly for state and local police chiefs. In addition, giving the rank the name "Marshal" would have resulted in one of the officers so designated as "Field Marshal Marshall," which was considered undignified.

Dwight Eisenhower resigned his Army commission on May 31, 1952 to run for president. After he served two terms, his successor, John F. Kennedy, signed on March 23, 1961, which returned Eisenhower to Active Duty of Regular Army in grade of General of the Army dated back to December 1944.This rank is today commemorated on the signs denoting Interstate Highways as part of the Eisenhower Interstate System, which display five silver stars on a light blue background.

Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, a General in the Army, was the Chief of Staff of the Army Air Forces when he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army. After the United States Air Force became a separate service on September 18th, 1947, Arnold's rank was carried over to the Air Force, as all Army Air Force personnel, equipment, etc. also carried over. Arnold was the first and, to date, only General of the Air Force. He is also the only person to have attained a five-star rank in two branches of the US Armed Forces.

Modern use

There have been no officers appointed to the rank of General of the Army since Omar Bradley. The rank of General of the Army is still maintained as a rank of the U.S. military, and could again be bestowed, during a time of war, pending approval of the United States Congress. Current U.S. military policy is that General of the Army, General of the Air Force, and Fleet Admiral are ranks only to be used when a commander of U.S. forces must be equal to or of higher rank than commanders of armies from another nation.

In the 1990s, the U.S.marker Department of Defensemarker gave indication that the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would possibly one day be a position worthy of five-star rank. At the time of Omar Bradley’s promotion it was specifically emphasized that the promotion was done in recognition of his World War II and post-war service; not as a result of his appointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The former United States Secretary of State and former Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Colin Powell is viewed by many as someone who could be promoted to this rank by the President and Congress if he would accept the post-retirement honor should it be offered.

General of the Armies

The rank of General of the Armies is considered senior to General of the Army, and was bestowed on only one officer, John J. Pershing, in 1919 for his services in World War I.

When the five-star rank of General of the Army was introduced, it was decided that General Pershing (still living at the time) would be superior to all the newly-appointed Generals of the Army. Then-Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was asked whether Pershing was therefore a six-star general. Stimson stated:

It appears the intent of the Army was to make the General of the Armies senior in grade to the General of the Army. I have advised Congress that the War Department concurs in such proposed action.

George Washington was posthumously appointed to a new, higher grade of the rank "General of the Armies of the United States" in 1976 as part of the American Bicentennial celebrations. According to Public Law 94-479, General of the Armies of the United States is established as having "rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present," clearly making it distinctly superior in grade to General of the Army. This includes outranking Pershing's General of the Armies rank, as it is of a lower grade than that of Washington. Washington is informally called the only six-star General in the history of the United States, although when alive he was a full general in the Revolutionary War and a three-star lieutenant general during the Quasi-War with France.

Equivalent ranks

Twin services

The rank of General of the Army is equivalent to the U.S. Air Force's rank of General of the Air Force and the U.S. Navy's rank of Fleet Admiral. None of the other uniformed services of the United States has an equivalent rank.

Foreign armies

In the British Army, the equivalent rank would be Field Marshal, although that rank is currently only ceremonial. Some other countries, such as Francemarker, Indiamarker and Russiamarker, would use the rank of Marshal.


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