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George C. Marshall

the first professional soldier to be named Secretary of State and first non-civilian to serve as Secretary of Defense

George Catlett Marshall

George Catlett Marshall was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on December 31, 1880, the youngest of four children. His father owned coal and coke properties, but George had little interest in a business career. Preferring the military instead, he attended the Virginia Military Institute, from which he graduated in 1901. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry in the Army in 1902, after which he was stationed in the Philippines, where he remained until 1903. He then attended the Army School of the Line and the Army Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, graduating in 1907 and 1908, respectively. After serving at different U.S. bases he was again sent to the Philippines, in 1913. During this tour he showed great ability for planning and tactics in mock battles. He was promoted to Captain upon his return to the United States, in 1916.

World War I

When the United States entered the First World War in 1917, Captain Marshall was sent to France as part of the first field units to go overseas. He served a year as a training officer and then as Chief of Operations of the First Division before being named Chief of Operations of the First Army in 1918, in which capacity he served until the end of the war. While serving in the latter position, Marshall helped plan the First Army's attack on St. Mihiel. He then directed the movement of more than 400,000 men and 2,700 guns from St. Mihiel to the Meuse-Argonne front for the final American battle of the war. The transfer, which was done only at night, was accomplished in less than two weeks, and came as a complete surprise to the Germans.


After World War I ended, Marshall served in a number of positions -- senior aide to General John J. Pershing, 1919-1924; executive officer of the 15th Infantry Regiment in China, 1924-1927; assistant commandant in charge of training at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, 1927-1932; commander of the Eighth Infantry, 1933; and senior instructor to the Illinois National Guard, 1933-1936. He also helped organize and administer Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps. He was made a Brigadier General in 1936, and, in 1938, became chief of the war plans division of the War Department and then Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.

World War II

When World War II broke out in Europe on September 1, 1939, Marshall was promoted to Four-Star General and made Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. As Chief of Staff, Marshall introduced mass maneuvers in which soldiers gained experience under combatlike conditions; organized the army into units especially trained to take part in desert, mountain, and jungle warfare; and was responsible for building, arming, and supplying a force of 8,250,000 soldiers and airmen. Although he spent most of the war in Washington, he was a leader in planning overall war strategy, and a directing force behind the movements of U.S. armies. Under his command, Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur led American forces to victory in Europe and the Pacific. He was made General of the Army on December 16, 1944, and retired as Chief of Staff in November 1945. President Harry Truman subsequently appointed him special representative to China, where he spent a year trying unsuccessfully to end the civil war between Chinese Nationalists and Communists.

Secretary of State

In 1947, Marshall became the first professional soldier to be named Secretary of State. Soon after taking office he publicly proposed that the United States provide financial aid to help rebuild war-torn Western Europe. Under the European Recovery Program (aka Marshall Plan), the U.S. subsequently spent approximately $13 billion to help European nations repair factories, improve farming, rebuild schools and restore towns. This plan has been credited with helping to check the spread of Communism in Europe.

In addition to his role in helping rebuild Europe, Secretary of State Marshall was also instrumental in securing aid for Greece and Turkey, supplying food to West Berlin during the Communist blockade of that city, and organization of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Poor health forced him to resign from office in January, 1949.

Secretary of Defense

Before Marshall could assume office as Secretary of Defense in 1950, Congress had to pass an act to set aside a requirement that the position be filled only by a civilian. Once in office, Marshall helped strengthen NATO and built up United Nations fighting forces in Korea before resigning in September, 1951.

For his role in helping rebuild Europe after World War II, as well as his work to organize NATO, Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

General George C. Marshall died on October 16, 1959. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Other Information

George C. Marshall married Elizabeth Carter Coles in 1902; she died in 1927. He married Katherine Tupper Brown in 1930. He had no children.

The George C. Marshall Space Flight Center was dedicated in his honor on September 8, 1960.

The George C. Marshall Research Library, containing his papers and souvenirs, opened in Lexington, Virginia, in 1964.

Print Source

World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979.

Internet Source

Arlington National Cemetery

See Also

First World War
General John J. Pershing
World War II
Dwight David Eisenhower
Douglas MacArthur
President Harry Truman
Secretary of State
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Nobel Peace Prize

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The Robinson Library >> United States >> Early 20th Century >> Military History

This page was last updated on December 31, 2018.