Earning a Five-Star rank remains the highest honor in the history of the US military. Throughout its existence, only select individuals have been appointed to this prestigious rank, each leaving a lasting impression on US military prowess and strategy.
These legendary leaders embody the pinnacle of military excellence and strategic acumen. Take a look.
George C. Marshall (Appointed on December 16, 1944)
General George C. Marshall was a highly esteemed military leader and statesman who played a pivotal role in shaping the course of American history.
Born on December 31, 1880, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Marshall rose to prosperity and was appointed a five-star general of the United States Army.
Chief Of Staff Marshall
Marshall's military career spanned several decades, and he was widely recognized for his exceptional strategic thinking and leadership abilities. He served as the Chief of Staff of the United States Army during World War II, where he played a vital role in planning and coordinating military operations.
Marshall's keen understanding of logistics and his commitment to the welfare of his soldiers were instrumental in the Allied victory.
The Marshall Plan
In addition to his military accomplishments, Marshall made significant contributions to international diplomacy. As Secretary of State, he was the driving force behind the Marshal. This post-World War II initiative provided economic assistance to war-torn Europe, helping to rebuild the continent and prevent the spread of communism.
Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his efforts, recognizing his outstanding contributions to peace and international cooperation.
Douglas MacArthur (Appointed on December 18, 1944)
General Douglas MacArthur was a highly esteemed military leader who served as a five-star general in the United States Army.
Born on January 26, 1880, in Little Rock, Arkansas, MacArthur's military career spanned several decades and included key roles in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. He became known for his strategic brilliance, tenacity, and bold leadership style, making him one of the most prominent figures in American military history.
MacArthur Was A Major Force In WWII
MacArthur's rise to prominence began during World War I when he served as a brigade commander and later as the chief of staff of the 42nd Division.
During World War II, MacArthur played a pivotal role in the Pacific theater as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces. He led successful campaigns such as the liberation of the Philippines and the Battle of Leyte, eventually becoming the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan.
MacArthur Was Big In Japan
As a five-star general, MacArthur held one of the highest ranks in the US military. His rank reflected not only his exceptional leadership but also his immense contributions to the armed forces. MacArthur's tenure as the military governor of Japan after World War II is particularly noteworthy.
He implemented sweeping reforms, including the democratization of Japanese society and the establishment of a new constitution. His leadership played a crucial role in Japan's post-war recovery and transformation into a prosperous and democratic nation.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Was A Commander Before President
Before his presidential tenure, Eisenhower had a distinguished military career, achieving the prestigious rank of five-star general. He commanded the Allied forces during World War II and played a crucial role in the successful D-Day invasion, which turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.
Eisenhower's exceptional leadership and strategic acumen earned him the respect and admiration of his colleagues and superiors, solidifying his place as one of the most esteemed military figures in American history.
Eisenhower, The 34th President Of The United States
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, was a highly influential figure in American history. Eisenhower served his two terms from 1953 to 1961; he steered the nation through a critical era marked by the Cold War and significant domestic transformations.
As the 34th President, Eisenhower played a pivotal role in shaping the country's political landscape and policy decisions during this period.
Eisenhower Had Many Notable Accomplishments
Beyond his military achievements, Eisenhower left an enduring legacy as a president who prioritized unity and moderation. His administration focused on promoting domestic prosperity, fostering economic growth, and advancing civil rights.
Notable accomplishments during his presidency include the establishment of the Interstate Highway System and the desegregation of schools following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Henry H. Arnold Of The US Air Force
Henry H. Arnold, a prominent figure in the United States military, held the distinguished position of a five-star general of both the United States Army Air Forces and the Unites States Air Force.
Arnold was born on June 25, 1886, in the town of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania; he made significant contributions to the development of the U.S. Air Force and played a vital role in shaping modern aviation.
Henry H. Arnold Was A Military Visionary
Arnold's career took off during World War II when he served as the Chief of the U.S. Air Corps. As a strategic thinker and visionary leader, he spearheaded the air campaigns that turned the tide of the war.
His expertise and innovation were instrumental in the successful deployment of airpower, including the use of strategic special missions, which played a pivotal role in weakening enemy forces.
Henry H. Arnold (Appointed on December 21, 1944)
Arnold's achievements in the military were recognized through his promotion to the rank of five-star general, making him one of the few to hold such an esteemed position.
Even after retiring from active duty, Arnold continued to influence military affairs as a civilian advisor, leaving a lasting legacy on the U.S. Air Force and the nation's defense capabilities.
William D. Leahy Earned His Honors In The Army And The Navy
William D. Leahy was an eminent figure in the United States military, known for his remarkable career and accomplishments. Born on May 6, 1875, in Hampton, Iowa, Leahy rose to prominence as a five-star fleet admiral during World War II.
He was the first-ever flag officer to earn the rank.
Leahy Began His March In The Naval Academy
Leahy's military journey began when he entered the United States Naval Academy in 1893. Throughout his career, he served in various roles and commanded several vessels, earning him a reputation for his strategic acumen and leadership skills.
In 1937, he was appointed Chief of Naval Operations, where he played a pivotal role in modernizing the Navy and preparing it for the challenges of World War II.
Leahy Served As President Roosevelt's Right-Hand Man
General Leahy's most notable contribution came as the Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman from 1942 to 1949.
As the highest-ranking military officer in the administration, Leahy was a trusted advisor to both presidents during their respective terms, providing invaluable guidance on military matters during a critical period in American history to him and his advisors.
Ernest J. King (Appointed on December 17, 1944)
Ernest J. King, a highly esteemed military figure, held the distinguished rank of five-star fleet admiral in the United States Navy during World War II.
Born on November 23, 1878, in Lorain, Ohio, King played a crucial role in shaping the course of the war and making significant contributions to the development of naval strategy and operations.
King Served For Three Years As Chief Of Naval Operations
As Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) from 1942 to 1945, King was known for his tireless efforts in expanding and modernizing the U.S. Navy. Recognizing the importance of sea power, he championed the idea of concentrating naval forces to gain dominance in key areas, which proved pivotal in achieving victory in the Pacific.
King emphasized the importance of amphibious warfare and worked closely with General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz to coordinate successful campaigns, including the iconic battles of Guadalcanal, Midway, and Leyte Gulf.
King Made The Navy's Effectiveness His Responsibility
Under King's leadership, the U.S. Navy saw tremendous growth and transformation. He oversaw the construction of new ships, the expansion of naval aviation, and the development of new technologies. King's relentless focus on efficiency and logistics greatly enhanced the Navy's ability to project power across vast distances.
His efforts to streamline the chain of command and centralize decision-making ensured a more coordinated and effective naval force during the war.
William Halsey Jr. (Appointed December 11, 1945)
William Halsey Jr. was an esteemed military leader and achieved the rank of five-star fleet admiral in the United States Navy. Born on October 30, 1882, in New Jersey, Halsey played a pivotal role in several significant contributions during his career.
During World War II, Halsey commanded the US Third Fleet and led his forces in several crucial naval battles in the Pacific theater.
Halsey Jr. Was Instrumental In The Battle Of Leyte Gulf Victory
Halsey Jr. displayed his leadership and tactical brilliance, which were instrumental in the decisive victory at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.
Known for his aggressive and daring approach, Halsey's strategic maneuvers effectively weakened Japanese naval power, enabling the Allied forces to gain a significant advantage in the Pacific campaign.
Halsey Jr. And Chester W. Nimitz Worked Together
Halsey's leadership and dedication to the US Navy extended beyond his combat expertise. As the commander of the South Pacific Area, he played a key role in the successful Guadalcanal campaign.
He worked alongside Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, coordinating the naval offensive across the vast expanse of the Pacific. Halsey's contributions, both in terms of tactical brilliance and strategic vision, earned him widespread respect and admiration.
Chester W. Nimitz (Appointed December 19, 1944)
Chester W. Nimitz, a distinguished American military leader, achieved the esteemed rank of five-star fleet admiral in the United States Navy. As Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet during World War II, Nimitz displayed exceptional strategic planning and unmatched determination.
He masterfully orchestrated pivotal naval operations, including the Battle of Midway, which turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allies. Nimitz's unwavering leadership and foresight were instrumental in securing victory in the Pacific theater.
Nimitz's Naval Expertise Helped Weaken Japan's Defenses
Nimitz's expertise in naval warfare allowed him to implement innovative tactics that disrupted enemy forces and secured crucial strategic positions.
His commitment to excellence and meticulous planning was evident in his successful island-hopping campaign across the Pacific, which systematically weakened Japanese defenses and brought the Allies closer to their ultimate objective.
Nimitz Made Reforms And Aided The Navy's Modernization
Beyond his outstanding command during World War II, Nimitz also played a pivotal role in shaping the future of the U.S. Navy.
As Chief of Naval Operations, he spearheaded and made contributions to many significant reforms and modernization efforts, ensuring that the Navy remained a formidable force in the post-war era.
Omar Bradley (Appointed September 22, 1950)
General Omar Bradley, a distinguished military leader, held the prestigious rank of five-star general, representing the pinnacle of his career.
Known for his unwavering dedication and strategic brilliance, he made significant contributions during World War II. As a key commander in the Allied forces, he played a vital role in planning and executing the successful Normandy Invasion on D-Day, ensuring a crucial turning point in the war.
Bradley Was The Last Appointed US Five-Star General
Further than his accomplishments in World War II, General Bradley continued to leave a lasting impact on the United States Armed Forces.
As the last appointed five-star general in the country, his influence extended beyond the battlefield. Recognizing the importance of unity and cooperation, he advocated for the establishment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a vital institution that fostered coordination among different branches of the military.
Bradley Was About More Than Flexing Military Might
General Omar Bradley's contributions to the military were not limited to his wartime achievements. As the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he played a crucial role in shaping the defense policies and strategies of the United States during the early years of the Korean War.
His leadership and expertise helped him navigate the complex challenges of the era.
Five-Star Generals Are International
The five-star general is the highest rank in the United States military. It is a position of utmost authority and is rarely awarded. None have been appointed since the passing of Bradley in 1981.
Other countries with five-star generals include the United Kingdom, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, France, and their "General d'Armee."
France Has The "General d'Armee"
In addition to the United States, other countries in the world also have utilized this rank. For instance, France recognizes the designation of "Général d'Armée." This is the equivalent of a five-star general.
One notable example is General Philippe Leclerc, a key figure in the liberation of France during World War II.
Field Marshals Equal Five-Star Generals In Germany
Germany historically had the rank of Field Marshal, the highest level of ranking in the German Army. Notable Field Marshals include Erwin Rommel and Gerd von Rundstedt.
This prestigious and highly-respected position granted immense authority and responsibility to these military leaders, showcasing their exceptional command and strategic skills within the German armed forces.
Why Is It So Rare For A Five-Star General To Be Appointed?
According to the U.S. Army's Center Of Military History, the rank of five-star general is synonymous with the consideration of its holder as a General of the Army. And such a rank is typically only necessary when the United States is engaged in an extreme period of warfare.
For example — although he did not officially hold this rank in life — George Washington has since been characterized as a General of the Armies of the United States while leading then-nascent American forces during the American Revolution.
There Are Laws Governing Whether Or Not This Rank Exists
The Center Of Military History explained that after Washington's death, a congressional act enacted on May 14, 1800, explicitly authorized his successor — John Adams — to suspend any further appointments to that all-encompassing military title.
And while he never went out of his way to do so, the government largely considered such an office suspended by 1802.
A False Alarm
Within this two-year period, the Adams administration took actions to disband various military forces that had been raised in anticipation of a possible war with France.
Since that war never came, the realization that such a standing force wouldn't be needed led Congress to pass another Act that determined America's peacetime military structure.
The Role Was Quietly Suspended
Although this Act didn't contain any specific clause suspending the rank of General of the Armies of the United States, the fact that it wasn't mentioned at all signaled that the antiquated equivalent of a five-star general's rank had ceased.
However, the rank would be reinstated after the nation had gone through the turmoil of the American Civil War.
A Civil War Leader Was The Man For The Job
After the Civil War ended, Congress passed legislation to reinstate the General of the Army rank and appointed Ulysses S. Grant to the position on July 25, 1866.
However, an additional Act in 1870 held that once there was a vacancy in the office of both General of the Army and Lieutenant General of the Army, that position would not be filled. This effectively repealed the rank yet again.
A General Just Barely Had Time To Be Appointed
By the time the Act of 1870 was enacted, Grant had already vacated the position in 1969 after he was elected President of the United States. So on March 4, 1869, fellow former Union General William Tecumseh Sherman assumed the role of General of the Army.
However, the wording of the Act ensured that once Sherman retired in 1884, his Lieutenant General, Philip H. Sheridan, could not succeed him.
Sheridan Got To Be General Of The Army Anyway
However, despite the provisions of the Act, Sheridan would be able to achieve the rank of General of the Army on June 1, 1888.
This was because of another Act that discontinued his rank of Lieutenant General of the Army by merging it with the higher office. Following Sheridan's death while on active duty on August 5, 1888, the rank would be discontinued once again.
John J. Pershing Was Almost A Five-Star General
The last person to be named General of the Army before the title was replaced by the Five-Star General ranking was established was John Joseph Pershing. He was specifically named General of the Armies of the United States on September 3, 1919, in honor of his service as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.
Although there's only a slight difference in wording between these two titles, the distinction is an important one because Pershing was the only person besides Washington himself to achieve this specific rank. All the same, his four-star insignia was grandfathered in.
World War II Needed More Top Generals Than Usual
With the exception of Omar Bradley, every Five-Star General to be appointed since that specific rank was established on December 14, 1944 achieved their top commands during World War II.
After all, the scale of America's military operations throughout the world were so unprecedented during that time that four Generals of the Army were required for what was normally a one-person job.
If There's Never Another Five-Star General, That's Good
Although only a handful of men have ever been named General of the Army (regardless of that role's specific name), it will speak volumes for both America's stability and that of the world at large if nobody is ever appointed as a Five-Star General again.
Because America's military history makes it clear that it is only during or immediately following periods of extreme warfare for the United States that the government considers such an office necessary.