George Catlett Marshall, Jr., was born on December 31, 1880, into a middle-class family in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He was the son of George Catlett Marshall, Sr., and Laura Emily Bradford Marshall. His father came from an old Virginia family and was a distant relative of former Chief Justice John Marshall. George had two siblings, Stuart Marshall and Marie Marshall.
Marshall graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1901. While in school, he was named All-Southern tackle on the varsity football team. He then took a competitive examination to qualify as a Second Lieutenant; he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in February, 1902.
George Marshall was “a planner of both training and operations” during World War I. He worked closely with General John J. Pershing and “contributed to the defeat of the German Army on the Western Front.”
After the war ended Marshal became an aide-de-camp to General John J. Pershing. While “Pershing was Army Chief of Staff, Marshall worked in a number of positons in the US Army, focusing on training and teaching modern, mechanized warfare.” He was a lieutenant colonel in 1927 when he was appointed assistant commandant of Fort Benning; he was the Commanding Officer at Fort Screven, Savannah Beach, Georgia (now Tybee Island) from June 1932 to June 1933. Under his direction a book was written – Infantry in Battle – “that codified the lessons of World War I.” The book “is still used as an officer’s training manual in the Infantry Officer’s Course and was the training manual for most of the infantry officers and leaders of World War II.
Marshall became a brigadier general in October 1936 and commanded the Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Washington, from that time until July 1938 when he was assigned to the War Plans Division in Washington, D.C., and the reassigned as Deputy Chief of Staff. “In that capacity, then-Brigadier General Marshall attended a conference at the White House at which President Roosevelt proposed a plan to provide aircraft to England in support of the war effort, lacking forethought with regard to logistical support or training. With all other attendees voicing support of the plan, Marshall was the only person to voice his disagreement. Despite the common belief that he had ended his career, this action resulted in his being nominated by President Franklin Roosevelt to be Army Chief of Staff. He became acting chief of staff on July 1, 1939, and “promoted to general and sworn in as chief of staff on September 1, 1939, the same day German forces invaded Poland. He would hold this post until the end of the war in 1945.”
Marshall was instrumental in preparing the U.S. Army and Army Air Forces to invade the European continent. People assumed that he would become the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, but President Roosevelt selected General Dwight Eisenhower for the position. Marshall refused to lobby for the position, and the President wanted him in Washington, D.C., saying “I didn’t feel I could sleep at ease if you were out of Washington.” He became the first American general to be promoted to five-star rank and “the second American to be promoted to a five-star rank as William Leahy was promoted to fleet admiral the previous day.”
“Throughout the remainder of World War II, Marshall coordinated Allied operations in Europe and the Pacific. He was characterized as the organizer of Allied victory by Winston Churchill. Time magazine named Marshall Man of the Year for 1943. Marshall resigned his post of Chief of Staff in 1945, but did not retire, as regulations stipulate that Generals of the Army remain on active duty for life.” He later served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.
In June 1947 Secretary of State Marshall gave a commencement address at Harvard University. He recommended in his speech that “the Europeans collectively create their own plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II noting, `It is logical that the United States should do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world.’ The State Department developed most of the plan, and Truman was shrewd enough to let Marshall’s name be attached to it. Unlike Truman, Marshall was widely admired by members of both political parties. Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for the plan, which was aimed at the economic recovery of Western Europe after World War II.”
Marshall was married twice. He married Elizabeth Carter Cole in San Antonio, Texas, in 1902; she passed away in 1927. He married Katherine Boyce Tupper (October 8, 1882 – December 18, 1978) in 1930; the marriage ended in 1959. Katherine was the widow of Baltimore lawyer Clifton Stevenson Brown and brought three children into the marriage with her (Allen Tupper Brown, Clifton Stevenson Brown, Jr., and Molly Brown Winn). He was a Freemason and maintained a home – Dodona Manor – in Leesburg, Virginia; the home is now restored.