After the United States entered World War I, Marshall went to France with the American Expeditionary Forces as training officer to the 1st Division in June 1917. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1918, he became chief of operations of the U.S. First Army, winning admiration for his logistical skills in directing the repositioning of hundreds of thousands of men quickly across the battlefront for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After working on occupation plans for Germany, Marshall became aide to General John J. Pershing, who was named chief of staff of the army in 1921.
Beginning in 1924, Marshall spent three years in Tianjin (Tientsin), China, with the 15th Infantry Regiment, then five years as assistant commandant in charge of instruction at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, where he helped to train numerous future U.S. generals. He won promotion to colonel in 1932, holding assorted command posts in the continental United States. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1936.
In 1938, Marshall became head of the War Plans Division in Washington, then deputy chief of staff with promotion to major general that July. President Franklin D. Roosevelt advanced Marshall over many more senior officers to appoint him chief of staff of the army as a temporary general on 1 September 1939, the day that German armies invaded Poland. As war began in Europe, Marshall worked to revitalize the American defense establishment. Assisted by pro-Allied civilians such as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, he instituted and lobbied for programs to recruit and train new troops; expedite munitions production; assist Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union in resisting the Axis powers; and coordinate British and American strategy. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, Marshall presided over an increase in U.S. armed forces from a mere 200,000 to a wartime maximum of 8 million men and women. For this, he became known as the "Organizer of Victory."
Marshall was a strong supporter of opening a second front in Europe, a campaign ultimately deferred until June 1944. Between 1941 and 1945, he attended all the major wartime strategic conferences, including those at Placentia Bay, Washington, Quebec, Cairo, Tehran, Malta, Yalta, and Potsdam. Marshall was the first to be promoted to the newly authorized five-star rank of General of the Army in December 1944. Perhaps his greatest disappointment was that he did not exercise field command, especially command of the European invasion forces. Roosevelt and the other wartime chiefs wanted him to remain in Washington, and Marshall bowed to their wishes. He was a major supporter of the Army Air Forces, and in 1945, he advocated use of the atomic bomb against Japan.
On the urging of President Harry S Truman, Marshall agreed to serve as special envoy to China (1945–1947). As secretary of state (1947–1949), he advanced the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and he then served as president of the American Red Cross (1949–1950). Truman persuaded him to return to government service as secretary of defense in September 1950. In that capacity, Marshall worked to repair relations with the other agencies of government that had become frayed under his predecessor and to build up the U.S. military to meet the needs of the Korean War and commitments in Europe, while at the same time maintaining an adequate reserve. Marshall opposed General Douglas MacArthur's efforts for a widened war with China and supported Truman in his decisions to fight a "limited war" and to remove MacArthur as commander of UN forces.
Marshall resigned in September 1951, ending 50 years of dedicated government service. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for the Marshall Plan, he was the first soldier so honored. He died in Washington, D.C., on 16 October 1959.
Spencer C. Tucker
Acheson, Dean. Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department. New York: W. W. Norton, 1959.; Cray, Ed. General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.; Marshall, George C. The Papers of George Catlett Marshall. Ed. Larry I. Bland. 4 vols. to date. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981–.; Pogue, Forrest C. George C. Marshall. 4 vols. New York: Viking, 1963–1987.; Stoler, Mark A. George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989.; Stoler, Mark A. Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and U.S. Strategy in World War II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.