George C. Marshall Jr. was born on December 31, 1880, in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. A graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, he served in both world wars, rising to the post of U.S. Army chief of staff. After the war, he served as the secretary of state and crafted the "Marshall Plan" for European recovery. In 1953, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1959.
George Catlett Marshall Jr. was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on December 31, 1880. The youngest of three children, he was initially a disappointment to his parents with his mischievous behavior and poor performance in school. When he entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1897, however, he vowed to succeed. His first year at the school was at a difficult one, but Marshall was determined to learn military rules and follow orders. By the end of the first year, he was at the top of his class.
Early Military Career
Marshall graduated from VMI in 1901. The following year, he married Elizabeth (Lily) Carter Coles and set out for 18 months of duty in the Philippines as a second lieutenant of infantry. When Marshall returned, he continued to demonstrate his sharp leadership and problem solving skills, graduating with honors from the Infantry-Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth in 1907 and the Army Staff College in 1908. In 1917, when the United States became involved in World War I, Marshall was chosen to act as chief of operations for the first army division sent to France. While there, he served under General John J. Pershing and was a key planner of operations, including the battles of Aisne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne. After the war, Marshall served for five years as Pershing's aide-de-camp and another five years as assistant commandant at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Army Chief of Staff in World War II
On September 1, 1939, the day the world went to war again, George Marshall was sworn in as chief of staff for the U.S. Army. At that time there were fewer than 200,000 U.S. officers and soldiers. In less than four years, Marshall had built the army into a well-trained and well-equipped force of 8,300,000. He also directed personnel training and the development of new weapons and equipment. During the early part of the war, Marshall attended international conferences around the globe, gathering support for the Allies and coordinating the war effort. He helped plan Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe, which many expected he would lead, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt his diplomacy and planning skills were more needed in Washington, D.C., and he tapped General Dwight D. Eisenhower to lead the operation instead.
In November 1945, at the war's end, Marshall resigned his military post, but just days later, President Harry Truman persuaded him to serve as his special representative to mediate the Chinese civil war. Marshall was unable to find a solution, however, and when China later fell to communism in 1949, Marshall would find himself the target of vicious attacks by anticommunists like Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Despite Marshall's failure to resolve the Chinese conflict, President Truman appointed him secretary of state in 1947. The European economy was in shambles after World War II, and there was great political instability. Marshall believed that the United States' interests could be best served with an economically strong and stable Europe. In June of 1947, Marshall proposed a sweeping economic recovery program, later known as the Marshall Plan, which would remove trade barriers, modernize industry and make Europe prosperous again. The plan was a success, and in 1953, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, President Truman again tapped Marshall, this time as his secretary of defense. Due to ill health, Marshall only served one year before retiring completely from public life in September 1951. He died in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1959, at age 79.
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