Profile of General George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff in WWII

General George C. Marshall
Photograph Courtesy of the US Army

The son of the owner of the successful coal business in Uniontown, PA, George Catlett Marshall was born Dec. 31, 1880. Educated locally, Marshall elected to pursue a career as a soldier and enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute on September 1897. During his time at VMI, Marshall proved an average student, however, he consistently ranked first in his class in military discipline. This ultimately led to him serving as first captain of the Corps of Cadets his senior year. Graduating in 1901, Marshall accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the US Army in February 1902.

Rising Through the Ranks

That same month, Marshall married Elizabeth Coles before reporting to Fort Myer for assignment. Posted to the 30th Infantry Regiment, Marshall received orders to travel to the Philippines. Following a year in the Pacific, he returned to the United States and passed through a variety of positions at Fort Reno, OK. Sent to the Infantry-Cavalry School in 1907, he graduated with honors. He continued his education the next year when he finished first in his class from Army Staff College. Promoted to the first lieutenant, Marshall spent the next several years serving in Oklahoma, New York, Texas, and the Philippines.

George Marshall in World War I

In July 1917, shortly after the American entrance into World War I, Marshall was promoted to captain. Serving as the assistant chief of staff, G-3 (Operations), for the 1st Infantry Division, Marshall traveled to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force. Proving himself a highly capable planner, Marshall served on the St. Mihiel, Picardy, and Cantigny fronts and was eventually made the G-3 for the division. In July 1918, Marshall was promoted to the AEF's headquarters where he developed a close working relationship with General John J. Pershing.

Working with Pershing, Marshall played a key role in planning the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. With the defeat of Germany in November 1918, Marshall remained in Europe and served as Chief of Staff of the Eighth Army Corps. Returning to Pershing, Marshall served as the general's aide-de-camp from May 1919 until July 1924. During this time, he received promotions to major (July 1920) and a lieutenant colonel (August 1923). Posted to China as the executive officer of the 15th Infantry, he later commanded the regiment before returning home in September 1927.

Interwar Years

Shortly after arriving back in the United States, Marshall's wife died. Taking a position as an instructor at the US Army War College, Marshall spent the next five years teaching his philosophy of modern, mobile warfare. Three years into this posting he married Katherine Tupper Brown. In 1934, Marshall published Infantry in Battle, which illustrated the lessons learned during World War I. Used in training young infantry officers, the manual provided the philosophical basis for American infantry tactics in World War II.

Promoted to colonel in September 1933, Marshall saw service in South Carolina and Illinois. In August 1936, he was given command of the 5th Brigade at Fort Vancouver, WA with the rank of brigadier general. Returning to Washington DC in July 1938, Marshall worked as Assistant Chief of Staff War Plans Division. With tensions rising in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt nominated Marshall to be Chief of Staff of the US Army with the rank of general. Accepting, Marshall moved into his new post on September 1, 1939.

George Marshall in World War II

With war raging in Europe, Marshall oversaw a massive expansion of the US Army as well as worked to develop American war plans. A close advisor to Roosevelt, Marshall attended the Atlantic Charter Conference in Newfoundland in August 1941 and played a key role in the December 1941/January 1942 ARCADIA Conference. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he authored the principal American war plan for defeating the Axis Powers and worked with other Allied leaders. Remaining near the President, Marshall traveled with Roosevelt to the Casablanca (January 1943)) and Tehran (November/December 1943) Conferences.

In December 1943, Marshall appointed General Dwight D. Eisenhower to command Allied forces in Europe. Though he desired the position himself, Marshall was unwilling to lobby to get it. In addition, due to his ability to work with Congress and his skill in planning, Roosevelt desired that Marshall remains in Washington. In recognition of his senior position, Marshall was promoted to General of the Army (5-star) on December 16, 1944. He became the first US Army officer to achieve this rank and only the second American officer (Fleet Admiral William Leahy was first).

Secretary of State & The Marshall Plan

Remaining in his post through the end of World War II, Marshall was characterized as the "organizer" of victory by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. With the conflict over, Marshall stepped down from his post as chief of staff on November 18, 1945. Following a failed mission to China in 1945/46, President Harry S. Truman appointed him Secretary of State on January 21, 1947. Retiring from military service a month later, Marshall became an advocate for ambitious plans to rebuild Europe. On June 5, he outlined his "Marshall Plan," during a speech at Harvard University.

Officially known as the European Recovery Program, the Marshall Plan called for around $13 billion in economic and technical assistance to be given to European nations to rebuild their shattered economies and infrastructures. For his work, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. On January 20, 1949, he stepped down as secretary of state and was re-activated in his military role two months later.

After a brief period as president of the American Red Cross, Marshall returned to public service as Secretary of Defense. Taking office on September 21, 1950, his principal goal was to restore confidence in the department after its poor performance in the opening weeks of the Korean War. While at the Department of Defense, Marshall was attacked by Senator Joseph McCarthy and blamed for the Communist takeover of China. Lashing out, McCarthy stated that the ascent of Communist power began in earnest due to Marshall's 1945/46 mission. As a result, public opinion over Marshall's diplomatic record became divided along partisan lines. Departing office the following September, he attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Retiring from public life, Marshall died Oct. 16, 1959, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


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Hickman, Kennedy. "Profile of General George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff in WWII." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Profile of General George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff in WWII. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Profile of General George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff in WWII." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).