Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Uniontown, Fayette County
Born in Uniontown in 1880, George Marshall is best known for creating the Marshall Plan, a program designed to aid Europe's recovery from WWII.
George C. Marshall Jr. was born in 1880. After meeting the challenges of bolstering his education by studying at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and graduating in 1901, Marshall became a distinguished officer of the United States Army, progressing to hold various posts and prominent positions over the years for which he was commended, including Chief of Staff for the military. While serving as Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman in 1947, Marshall devised the Marshall Plan, a strategy that aided Europe’s economic recovery from warfare and later won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. George C. Marshall died in October of 1959 in Washington, DC, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
George C. Marshall Jr. was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on December 31, 1880, to George Catlett Marshall Sr., a successful coking coal manufacturer and Laura Bradford Marshall, a well-established landowner. Marshall was considered a difficult student, not because of low intelligence but because of a sour attitude and lack of preparation when it came to his schoolwork. While Marshall's sister, Marie, and brother, Stuart, excelled in school, Marshall lagged behind in most subjects except for History. As Marshall grew older, he expressed wanting to become a soldier, as many young boys who grew up admiring Civil War soldiers did. He struggled with academics throughout his student career, and when it came time to attend college, his own brother feared Marshall would disgrace the family name and begged his mother to hold Marshal back from attending the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) - a conversation Marshall overheard and resolved to disprove. Despite his family's uncertainties, Marshall began studies at VMI in September of 1897.
Marshall worked hard while at VMI and became enthusiastic about the military regimen, gaining a quick understanding of his role in the national military tradition. He exceeded his scholastic shortcomings to squash his family's doubts and flourished in an environment where importance was placed on military achievement, strength of character, and the ability to uphold honor. While attending VMI, Marshall met his first wife, Elizabeth Carter Coles. Nicknamed Lily, Coles was at least four years Marshall’s senior and captured his heart within a few weeks of meeting him. He graduated from the institute in 1901 with a degree in Civil Engineering. He said of that time:
What I learned at VMI was self-control, discipline, so that it was ground in. I learned also the problem of managing men. Despite his parents showing little support of his choice, Marshall received permission to take the entrance exam required to pursue a career in the United States Army. He passed the test, but had to wait until his 21st birthday to be commissioned as an officer. On February 3, 1902, Theodore Roosevelt signed Marshall’s commission, and Marshall became a Second Lieutenant of Infantry. In the following years, Marshall served at posts in the Philippines and the United States. In 1907, he graduated first in his class from the Infantry-Cavalry College at Fort Leavenworth. A year later he graduated from the Army Staff College. Over the next nine years, Marshall distinguished himself in various postings. He earned an appointment to sail to France with the First Division during World War I as a member of the General Staff. He received praise for his staff accomplishments during the battles of Cantigny, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihel, and Meuse-Argonne. From 1919 to 1924, Marshall served as Aide-de-Camp to General John J. Pershing and for the next three years served as both an Executive and Commanding Officer in China. September 15, 1927, Marshall’s wife, Lily, tragically died after their 26 years of marriage. While attending a friend’s dinner party two years later, Marshall met Katherine Boyce Tupper Brown, a former actress and widow from Baltimore. In October of 1930, the couple married, and Brown would provide Marshall with the companionship and emotional stability that he needed until his death. Marshall held various other prominent positions in the military before being appointed Chief of Staff, with the rank of General, by President Roosevelt in 1939. When the United States entered the war against Japan and Germany in 1941, Marshall was given the main responsibility for planning the US conduct of the war. He was the brains behind the successful invasion of Normandy in 1944, was appointed General of the Army (with Congress confirming the creation of the five-star rank two years later), and gave the orders to use atomic bombs on Japan after President Harry Truman had given the go-ahead.
He became the Secretary of State in 1947, and three years later, moved on to become the Secretary of Defense. Marshall is best remembered for his efforts post-World War II while serving as Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman. They collaborated in support of Western Europe’s economic recovery in order to secure stability and prevent the spread of Communism. Toward this aim, Marshall devised the Marshall Plan. He used his credibility and prestige in Washington to secure the Plan’s passing in 1948. The plan provided $13 billion in machinery, food, and additional aid to Europe’s economy over five years. British statesman Ernest Bevin called the Marshall Plan, “a lifeline to sinking men.” With his plan, Marshall helped to repair a continent’s war-ravaged economy, and in 1953 he won the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of it. Marshall concluded his career serving as Secretary of Defense in 1951. Six years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, George C. Marshall died on October 16, 1959, in Washington, DC, following complications from two strokes. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
A dedication to Marshall by the VMI Class of 1948 in their yearbook, The Bomb, states:
“The greatness of George C. Marshall lies not in a military career the success of which is world renowned… but rather in the integrity of his character. His unblemished honor, fearless honesty, undaunted perseverance,…self-abnegation in every decision, unfailing wisdom, utter humility, and simple goodness are those qualities which have won for him the respect of his enemies, the admiration and gratitude of his allies, the love of his fellow countrymen.”
Marshall, George C., Report on the Army, July 1, 1939, to June 30, 1941: Biennial Report of General George C. Marshall. Washington: The Infantry Journal, 1941.
Marshall, George C., Selected Speeches and Statements of General of the Army George C. Marshall, ed. by H.A. De Weerd. Washington: The Infantry Journal, 1945.
Marshall, George C., The Winning of the War in Europe and the Pacific: Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, July 1, 1943, to June 30, 1945, to the Secretary of War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945.