General of the Army(GA) is a five-star general officer and is the second highest possible rank in the United States Army. A special rank of General of the Armies, which ranks above General of the Army, does exist but has only been conferred twice in the history of the Army. A General of the Army ranks immediately above a general and is equivalent to a Fleet Admiral and a General of the Air Force; there is no established equivalent five-star rank in the other four uniformed services (Marine Corps, Coast Guard, PHSCC, and NOAA Corps). Often referred as a "five-star general," the rank of General of the Army is reserved for war-time use only and is not currently active in the U.S. military.
Post-American Civil War era
On July 25, 1866, the U.S. Congress established the rank of "General of the Army of the United States" for General Ulysses S. Grant. When appointed General of the Army, Grant wore the rank insignia of four stars and coat buttons arranged in three groups of four.
Unlike the World War II rank with a similar title, the 1866 rank of General of the Army was a four-star rank. This rank held all the authority and power of a 1799 proposal for a rank of "General of the Armies" even though Grant was never called by this title.
Unlike the modern four-star rank of general, only one officer could hold the 1866–1888 rank of General of the Army at any time.
After Grant became President, he was succeeded as General of the Army by William T. Sherman, effective March 4, 1869. In 1872, Sherman ordered the insignia changed to two stars with the coat of arms of the United States in between.
By an Act of June 1, 1888, the grade was conferred upon Philip Sheridan, who by then was of failing health. (The cover of Sheridan's autobiography was decorated with four stars within a rectangle evocative of the four-star shoulder strap worn by Grant.) The rank of General of the Army ceased to exist with Sheridan's death on August 5, 1888.
World War II era
The second version of General of the Army was created by Pub.L. 78-482 passed on 14 December 1944, first as a temporary rank, then made permanent 23 March 1946 by an act of the 79th Congress. It was created to give the most senior American commanders parity of rank with their British counterparts holding the rank of Field Marshal. The acts also created a comparable rank of Fleet Admiral for the Navy. This second General of the Army rank is not considered comparable to the American Civil War era version.
The insignia for General of the Army, as created in 1944, consisted of five stars in a pentagonal pattern, with points touching. The five officers who have held the 1944 version of General of the Army are:
|•||George Marshall||16 December 1944|
|•||Douglas MacArthur||18 December 1944|
|•||Dwight D. Eisenhower||20 December 1944|
|•||Henry H. Arnold||21 December 1944|
|•||Omar Bradley||22 September 1950|
The timing of the first four appointments was coordinated with the appointment of the U.S. Navy's five-star Fleet Admirals (on 15, 17, and 19 December 1944) to establish both a clear order of seniority and a near-equivalence between the services.
The US Army did not introduce a rank of Field Marshal. The United States traditionally uses the term Marshal for a senior law enforcement officer, particularly the US Marshals, as well as formerly for state and local police chiefs. In addition, giving the rank the name "Marshal" would have resulted in one of the officers being designated as "Field Marshal Marshall," which was considered undignified.
Dwight Eisenhower resigned his Army commission on May 31, 1952 to run for president. After he served two terms, his successor, John F. Kennedy, signed Pub.L. 87–3 on March 23, 1961, which returned Eisenhower to Active Duty of Regular Army in grade of General of the Army dated back to December 1944. This rank is today commemorated on the signs denoting Interstate Highways as part of the Eisenhower Interstate System, which display five silver stars on a light blue background.
Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, a General in the Army, was the Chief of Staff of the Army Air Forces when he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army. After the United States Air Force became a separate service on September 18, 1947, Arnold's rank was carried over to the Air Force, as all Army Air Force personnel, equipment, etc. also carried over. Arnold was the first and, to date, only General of the Air Force. He is also the only person to have attained a five-star rank in two branches of the US Armed Forces.
There have been no officers appointed to the rank of General of the Army since Omar Bradley. The rank of General of the Army is still maintained as a rank of the U.S. military, and could again be bestowed, during a time of war, pending approval of the United States Congress. Current U.S. military policy is that General of the Army, General of the Air Force, and Fleet Admiral are ranks only to be used when a commander of U.S. forces must be equal to or of higher rank than commanders of armies from another nation.
In the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Defense gave indication that the office of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would possibly one day be a position worthy of five-star rank. At the time of Omar Bradley’s promotion it was specifically emphasized that the promotion was done in recognition of his World War II and post-war service, not as a result of his appointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At one time, before his tenure as Secretary of State, there had been some talk of promoting General Colin Powell, who had served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War, to that rank.
General of the Armies
The rank of General of the Armies is considered senior to General of the Army, and has been bestowed on only two officers in history, John J. Pershing, in 1919 for his services in World War I, and George Washington for his service as the first Commanding General of the United States Army.
When the five-star rank of General of the Army was introduced, it was decided that General Pershing (still living at the time) would be superior to all the newly appointed Generals of the Army. Then-Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was asked whether Pershing was therefore a six-star general. Stimson stated:
- It appears the intent of the Army was to make the General of the Armies senior in grade to the General of the Army. I have advised Congress that the War Department concurs in such proposed action.
Section 7 of Public Law 78-482 read: "Nothing in this Act shall affect the provisions of the Act of September 3, 1919 (41 Stat. 283: 10 U.S.C. 671a), or any other law relating to the office of General of the Armies of the United States."
George Washington was posthumously appointed to the rank of General of Armies in 1976 as part of the American Bicentennial celebrations. According to Public Law 94-479, General of the Armies of the United States is established as having "rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present," clearly making it distinctly superior in grade to General of the Army. During his lifetime, Washington was appointed a general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and a three-star lieutenant general in the Regular Army during the Quasi-War with France.
The rank of General of the Army is equivalent to the U.S. Air Force's rank of General of the Air Force and the U.S. Navy's rank of Fleet Admiral. None of the other uniformed services of the United States has an equivalent rank.
- List of United States military leaders by rank
- General officers in the United States
- United States Army officer rank insignia
- "Army Regutation 600-20 see table 1-1". http://www.army.mil/usapa/epubs/pdf/r600_20.pdf.
- "Public Law 482". http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Public_Law_78-482. Retrieved 2008-04-29.
- "Public Law 333, 79th Congress". Naval Historical Center. April 11, 2007. http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq36-6.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Leonard Mosley, Marshall, hero for our times (1982), 270, available at Google Books
- Sydney Louis Mayer, The biography of General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur (1984), 70, available at Google Books
- Eric Larrabee, Commander in chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his lieutenants, and their war (2004), 200, available at Google Books
- Stuart H. Loory, Defeated; inside America's military machine (1973), 78, available at Google Books
- "Eisenhower Military Ranks". Eisenhower Presidential Center. http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/quick_links/military/ranks.html. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- "Eisenhower Resigned as General". Eisenhower Presidential Center. http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/Quick_links/Eisenhower_FAQ/Eisenhower_resigns_as_General_of_the_Army.html. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- U.S. Army; Five Star Generals
|United States commissioned officer and officer candidate ranks|
|Pay grade / Branch of service||Officer
|Air Force||Cadet / OT / OC||2d Lt||1st Lt||Capt||Maj||Lt Col||Col||Brig Gen||Maj Gen||Lt Gen||Gen||GAF|||
|Army||CDT / OC||2LT||1LT||CPT||MAJ||LTC||COL||BG||MG||LTG||GEN||GA||GAS|
|Marine Corps||Midn / Cand||2ndLt||1stLt||Capt||Maj||LtCol||Col||BGen||MajGen||LtGen||Gen|||||
|Navy||MIDN / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM||FADM||AN|
|Coast Guard||CDT / OC||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RDML||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
|Public Health Service||[OC]||ENS||LTJG||LT||LCDR||CDR||CAPT||RADM||RADM||VADM||ADM|||||
Unofficial 1945 proposal for General of the Armies insignia; John J. Pershing's GAS insignia: ; George Dewey's AN insignia:
 Rank used for specific officers during World War II and Korea only, not permanent addition to rank structure
 Grade is authorized by the U.S. Code for use but has not been created
 Grade has never been created or authorized
|United States warrant officer ranks|
|Public Health Service|||||||||||
|National Oceanic and
 Grade is authorized for use by U.S. Code but has not been created
 Grade never created or authorized
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