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General of the Army George Catlett Marshall (December 31, 1880 – October 16, 1959) was an Americanmarker military leader, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of State, and the third Secretary of Defense. Once noted as the "organizer of victory" by Winston Churchill for his leadership of the Allied victory in World War II, Marshall served as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during the war and as the chief military adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As Secretary of State his name was given to the Marshall Plan, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

Early life

George C. Marshall was born into a middle-class family in Uniontown, Pennsylvaniamarker, the son of George C. Marshall, Sr. and Laura Bradford Marshall. Marshall was a scion of an old Virginia family, as well as a distant relative of former Chief Justice John Marshall. Marshall graduated from the Virginia Military Institutemarker (VMI), where he was initiated into the Kappa Alpha Order, in 1901.

World War I

Following graduation from VMI, Marshall was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Until World War I, he was posted to various positions in the US and the Philippinesmarker, and was trained in modern warfare. During the war, he had roles as a planner of both training and operations. He went to Francemarker in mid-1917 as the director of training and planning for the 1st Infantry Division. In mid-1918, he was promoted to American Expeditionary Forces headquarters, where he worked closely with his mentor General John J. Pershing and was a key planner of American operations. He was instrumental in the design and coordination of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which contributed to the defeat of the German Army on the Western Front.

Between World War I and II

In 1919, he became an aide-de-camp to General John J. Pershing. Between 1920 and 1924, while Pershing was Army Chief of Staff, Marshall worked in a number of positions in the US Army, focusing on training and teaching modern, mechanized warfare. Between WWI and World War II, he was a key planner and writer in the War Department, spent three years in Chinamarker, and taught at the Army War Collegemarker. From June 1932 to June 1933 he was the Commanding Officer at Fort Screven, Savannah Beach, Georgia, now named Tybee Islandmarker. In 1934, Col. Marshall put Edwin F. Harding in charge of the Infantry School's publications, and Harding became editor of Infantry in Battle, a book that codified the lessons of World War I. Infantry in Battle is still used as an officer's training manual in the Infantry Officer's Course, and was the training manual for most of the infantry officers and leaders of World War II.

Cover to the book Infantry in Battle, the World War II officer's guide to infantry combat operations.
Marshall directed production of the book, which is still used as a reference today.
Marshall was promoted to Brigadier General in October 1936. He commanded the Vancouver Barracksmarker in Vancouvermarker, Washingtonmarker from 1936-1938. Nominated by President Franklin Roosevelt to be Army Chief of Staff, Marshall was promoted to full General and sworn in on September 1, 1939, the day German forces invaded Poland, which began World War II. He would hold this post until the end of the war in 1945.

World War II

As Chief of Staff, Marshall organized the largest military expansion in U.S. history, inheriting an outmoded, poorly-equipped army of 189,000 men and, partly drawing from his experience teaching and developing techniques of modern warfare as an instructor at the Army War College, coordinated the large-scale expansion and modernization of the U. S. Army. Though he had never actually led troops in combat, Marshall was a skilled organizer with a talent for inspiring other officers. Many of the American generals that were given top commands during the war were either picked or recommended by Marshall, including Dwight Eisenhower, Lloyd Fredendall, Leslie McNair, Mark Wayne Clark and Omar Bradley.

Faced with the necessity of turning an army of former civilians into a force of over eight million soldiers by 1942 (a fortyfold increase within three years), Marshall directed General Leslie McNair to focus efforts on rapidly producing large numbers of soldiers. With the exception of airborne forces, Marshall approved McNair's concept of an abbreviated training schedule for men entering Army land forces training, particularly in regards to basic infantry skills, weapons proficiency, and combat tactics. At the time, most U.S. commanders at lower levels had little or no combat experience of any kind; without the input of experienced British or Allied combat officers on the nature of modern warfare and enemy tactics, many of them resorted to formulaic training methods emphasizing static defense and orderly large-scale advances by motorized convoys over improved roads. In consequence, Army forces deploying to Africa suffered serious initial reverses when encountering German armored combat units in Africa at Kasserine Passmarker and other major battles. Even as late as 1944, U.S. soldiers undergoing stateside training in preparation for deployment against German forces in Europe were not being trained in combat procedures and tactics currently being employed there.

Originally, Marshall had planned a 200-division Army with a system of unit rotation such as practiced by the British and other Allies. By mid-1943, however, after pressure from government and business leaders to preserve manpower for industry and agriculture, he had abandoned this plan in favor of a 90-division Army using individual replacements sent via a circuitous process from training to divisions in combat. The individual replacement system (IRS) devised by Marshall and implemented by McNair greatly exacerbated problems with unit cohesion and effective transfer of combat experience to newly-trained soldiers and officers. In Europe, where there were few pauses in combat with German forces, the individual replacement system had broken down completely by late 1944. Hastily-trained replacements or service personnel re-assigned as infantry were given six weeks' refresher training and thrown into battle with Army divisions locked in frontline combat. Often, the new men were not even proficient in the use of their own rifle or weapons system, and once in combat, could not receive enough practical instruction from veterans before being killed or wounded, usually within the first three or four days. Under such conditions, many replacements suffered a crippling loss of morale, while veteran soldiers were kept in line units until they were killed, wounded, or incapacitated by battle fatigue or physical illness. Incidents of soldiers AWOL from combat duty as well as battle fatigue and self-inflicted injury rose rapidly during the last eight months of the war with Germany.. As one historian later concluded, "Had the Germans been given a free hand to devise a replacement system ..., one that would do the Americans the most harm and the least good, they could not have done a better job."

Marshall's abilities to pick competent field commanders during the early part of the war was decidedly mixed. While he had been instrumental in advancing the career of the able Dwight D. Eisenhower, he had also recommended the swaggering Lloyd Fredendall to Eisenhower for a major command in the American invasion of North Africa during Operation Torchmarker. Marshall was especially fond of Fredendall, describing him as "one of the best" and remarking in a staff meeting when his name was mentioned, "I like that man; you can see determination all over his face." Eisenhower duly picked him to command the 39,000-man Central Task Force (the largest of three) in Operation Torch. Both men would later come to regret that decision after the U.S. Army debacle at Kasserine Passmarker.

During World War II, Marshall was instrumental in preparing the U.S. Army and Army Air Forces for the invasion of the European continent. Marshall wrote the document that would become the central strategy for all Allied operations in Europe. He initially scheduled Operation Overlord for 1st of April 1943, but met with strong opposition from Winston Churchill, who convinced Roosevelt to commit troops to Operation Husky for the invasion of Italy. Some authors think that WWII could have been terminated one year earlier if Marshall had had his way, others think that such invasion would have meant utter failure. But it is true that the German Army in 1943 was overstretched and defense works in Normandy were not ready.

It was assumed that Marshall would become the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, but Roosevelt selected Dwight Eisenhower as Supreme Commander, for many reasons. First, it was due to Marshall's success in working with Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with his refusal to lobby for the position. At the time, the President told him: "I didn't feel I could sleep at ease if you were out of Washington." Additionally, when rumors arose that the top job would go to Marshall, many critics viewed the transfer as a demotion for Marshall, since he would leave his position as Chief of Staff of the Army and lose his seat on the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

On December 16, 1944, Marshall became the first American general to be promoted to 5 star rank, the newly created General of the Army. He was the second American to be promoted to a 5 star rank, as William Leahy was promoted to Fleet Admiral the previous day. This position is the American equivalent rank to Field Marshal.Throughout the remainder of World War II, Marshall coordinated Allied operations in Europe and the Pacific. He was characterized as the organizer of Allied victory by Winston Churchill. Time Magazine named Marshall Man of the Year in 1944. Marshall resigned his post of Chief of Staff in 1945, but did not retire, as regulations stipulate that Generals of the Army remain on active duty for life.

Post War: China and Secretary of State

In December 1945, President Harry Truman sent Marshall to Chinamarker to broker a coalition government between the Nationalist allies under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and Communists under Mao Zedong. Marshall had no leverage over the Communists, but threatened to withdraw American aid essential to the Nationalists. Both sides rejected his proposals and the Chinese Civil War escalated, with the Communists winning in 1949. His mission a failure, he returned to the United States in January 1947. As Secretary of State in 1947-48, Marshall seems to have disagreed with strong opinions in The Pentagonmarker and State department that Chiang's success was vital to American interests, insisting that U.S. troops not become involved.

On his return in early 1947, Truman appointed Marshall Secretary of State. He became the spokesman for the State Department's ambitious plans to rebuild Europe. On June 5, 1947 in a speech at Harvard Universitymarker, he outlined the American plan. The European Recovery Program, as it was formally known, became known as the Marshall Plan. Clark Clifford had suggested to Truman that the plan be called the Truman Plan, but Truman immediately dismissed that idea and insisted that it be called the Marshall Plan. The Marshall plan would help Europe quickly rebuild and modernize its economy along American lines. The Soviet Unionmarker forbade its satellites to participate.

Marshall was again named TIME's Man of the Year in 1948, and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his post-war work in 1953. He was the only U.S. Army General to have received this honor. As Secretary of State, Marshall strongly opposed recognizing the State of Israelmarker, telling President Truman, "If you (recognize the state of Israel) and if I were to vote in the election, I would vote against you." In 1949, he resigned from the State Departmentmarker and was named president of the American National Red Cross.

Secretary of Defense

When the early months of the Korean War showed how poorly prepared the Defense Department was, Truman fired Secretary Louis A. Johnson and named Marshall as Secretary of Defense in September 1950. His main role was to restore confidence and rebuild the armed forces from the post-war state of demobilization. He served in that post for less than one year, retiring from public office for good in September 1951. In 1953, he represented America at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

After leaving office, in a television interview, Harry Truman was asked who he thought was the American that made the greatest contribution of the last thirty years. Without hesitation, Truman picked Marshall, adding "I don't think in this age in which I have lived, that there has been a man has been a greater administrator; a man with a knowledge of military affairs equal to General Marshall."

Marshall died on Friday October 16, 1959. He is buried at Arlington National Cemeterymarker.


Joe McCarthy, albeit a man with controversial opinions on Communism, in a speech titled America's Retreat from Victory: The Story of George Catlett Marshall (1951), argued that General Albert Coady Wedemeyer had prepared a wise plan that would keep China a valued ally, but that it had been sabotaged, concluding that "If Marshall were merely stupid, the laws of probability would dictate that part of his decisions would serve this country's interest." He suggested that Marshall was old and feeble and easily duped but did not charge Marshall with treason. Specifically McCarthy alleged angrily at Marshall:

Public opinion became bitterly divided along party lines on Marshall's record. In 1952, Eisenhower while campaigning for president denounced the Truman administration's failures in Korea, campaigned alongside McCarthy, and refused to defend Marshall's policies.

Fictional Portrayals

Family life

He married Elizabeth Carter Cole of Lexington, Virginiamarker, in 1902. She died in 1927. In 1930, he married Katherine Boyce Tupper. Marshall's stepson with Tupper, Army Lt. Allen Tupper Brown, was killed by a German sniper in Italy in 1944. George Marshall maintained a home, known as Dodona Manormarker (now restored), in Leesburg, Virginiamarker. Actress Kitty Winn is his step-granddaughter.

Dates of rank

No pin insignia in 1902 Second Lieutenant, United States Army: February 2, 1902
First Lieutenant, United States Army: March 7, 1907
Captain, United States Army: July 1, 1916
Major, National Army: August 5, 1917
Lieutenant Colonel, National Army: January 5, 1918
Colonel, National Army: August 27, 1918
Captain, Regular Army (reverted to peacetime rank): June 30, 1920
Major, Regular Army : July 1, 1920
Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army: August 21, 1923
Colonel, Regular Army: September 1, 1933
Brigadier General, Regular Army: October 1, 1936
Major General, Regular Army: September 1, 1939
General, Regular Army, for service as Army Chief of Staff: September 1, 1939
General of the Army, Army of the United States: December 16, 1944
General of the Army rank made permanent in the Regular Army: April 11, 1946

Awards and decorations

U.S. military honors

Distinguished Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster
Silver Star
Philippine Campaign Medal
World War I Victory Medal with four battle clasps
Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal

Foreign military honors

Civilian honors

  • In 1948, he was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award for his role and contributions during and after World War II.
  • Nobel Peace Prize 1953 for the Marshall Plan.
  • 1959 Karlspreis .
  • 1960 George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, originally the Army Ballistics Missile Agency at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville Alabama, became a NASA field center and was renamed.
  • The British Parliament established the Marshall Scholarship in recognition of Marshall's contributions to Anglo-American relations.
  • Many buildings and streets throughout the U.S. and other nations are named in his honor.
  • George C. Marshall Award, the highest award given to a chapter in Kappa Alpha Order.
  • George C. Marshall High School, founded in 1962 and located in Falls Church, Virginiamarker, is the only public high school in the United States named for Marshall. The nickname of the school -- "The Statesmen" -- appropriately reflects his life and contributions.
  • In Uniontown, Pa there is an elementary school named for him. The Marshall Elementary School which is in the Laurel Highlands School District.


  • Cray, Ed. General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman. Norton, 1990. 847 pp.
  • Harold I. Gullan; "Expectations of Infamy: Roosevelt and Marshall Prepare for War, 1938-41." Presidential Studies Quarterly Volume: 28#3 1998. pp 510+ online edition
  • May, Ernest R. "1947-48: When Marshall Kept the U.S. out of War in China." Journal of Military History 2002 66(4): 1001-1010. Issn: 0899-3718 Fulltext: in Swetswise and in Jstor
  • Levine, Steven I. "A New Look at American Mediation in the Chinese Civil War: the Marshall Mission and Manchuria." Diplomatic History 1979 3(4): 349-375. Issn: 0145-2096
  • Parrish, Thomas. Roosevelt and Marshall: Partners in Politics and War. 1989. 608 pp.
  • Steele, Richard W. The First Offensive, 1942: Roosevelt, Marshall, and the Making of American Strategy. 1973. 239 pp.
  • Mark C. Stoler, George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century. (1989) 252pp
  • Forrest Pogue, Viking, (1963–87) Four-volume authorized biography: complete text is online

See also


Primary sources

  • The Papers of George Catlett Marshall: (Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens, eds.)
    • Vol. 1: The Soldierly Spirit," December 1880-June 1939. (1981)
    • Vol. 2: "We Cannot Delay," July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941. (1986)
    • Vol. 3: The Right Man for the Job, December 7, 1941-May 31, 1943. (1991)
    • Vol. 4: "Aggressive and Determined Leadership," June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944. (1996)
    • Vol. 5: "The Finest Soldier," January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947. (2003)
  • Bland, Larry; Jeans, Roger B.; and Wilkinson, Mark, ed. George C. Marshall's Mediation Mission to China, December 1945-January 1947. Lexington, Va.: George C. Marshall Found., 1998. 661 pp.
  • Marshall, George C. George C. Marshall: Interviews and Reminiscences for Forrest C. Pogue. Lexington, Va.: George C. Marshall Found., 1991. 698 pp. online edition
  • George Catlett Marshall. Memoirs of My Services in the World War, 1917-1918 (1976)
  • Greg Behrman. The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Time When America Helped Save Europe Free Press, 2007.

External links

Further reading

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