Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Six-Star General

The highest ranking general in the United States Army is.....dead. Only one person holds the rank, and he is no longer alive - and hasn't been for quite some time. But the rank is official. No one alive has ever held the rank at the time of his (or her) service. And this will probably never change. What am I talking about????

Well, the highest possible rank in the US Army is "General of the Armies of the United States," a rank considered in the 1950s for retired (but still living) five-star General Douglas MacArthur. Had the idea gone through, MacArthur would've received a sixth star! For various complications, MacArthur declined the promotion, and the proposal was scuttled.

But, in the 1970s, the proposal was revived - not for MacArthur (who died in the 1960s), but for a general who died at the close of the 1700s! You guessed it...

George Washington

During the American Revolution, Washington was titled "General and Commander in Chief" and held the equivalent rank of a Major General (who wears two stars). When the Quasi-War with France erupted, President John Adams named Washington as the commander of a newly formed American army - to protect the nation in case of a French invasion (which never came). Washington was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General (a three-star position).

Washington died in 1799, but no one outranked him, until World War I. In that conflict, John J. Pershing was given a fourth star. And in World War II, several leaders were given a fifth star - including Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall.

In the 1970s, Congress appropriately moved to remedy this situation. No one, they reasoned (correctly - in my opinion) should ever outrank America's FIRST general. So, they created the position of "General of the Armies of the United States" - a six star general rank. And they posthumously promoted George Washington to the position.

To this day, George Washington is the only person in US history to ever hold this rank. And he, of course, only holds it in death.

Will we ever have a LIVING six-star general? Probably not. And if we do, will they give George Washington a seventh star? :-)


John Witter said...

Interesting article! I respect General Washington, but I disagree with the idea that we need to conduct "post-mortem promotion". If he was to ever fall out of favor, would we take his rank away?

Roger Saunders said...

Sir! There was one other General of the Armies, General John "Black Jack" Pershing! See:


Kieran said...

I think Pershing got it too, as Roger said above. I don't think anyone deserves to be higher than Washington......it's unfortunate that he was passed by because of the expansion to a 5-star general. At least this way no one will every pass him.

Mario said...

General of the Armies John J. Pershing was indeed the only person to be promoted to the "6 Star General" grade while alive. He in fact only wore a modified 4 star grade which was gold. He was senior to the army grade "General of the Army" which is a 5 Star grade. There is no technical insignia for his grade. He was allowed to produce his own design for his insignia but he went with a modest change to an existent grade. Gen Pershing didn't care about subtleties of grade insignia or awards...he cared about productivity, discipline, and mission success.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between "General of the Armies of the United States" (Washington) and General of the Armies (Pershing), in rank title, anyway. Pershing was awarded the rank of General of the Armies so that he would not be subservient to any European General Officer during "The Great War".