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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 279

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This is the grave of George Marshall.

Born in 1880 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Marshall attended Virginia Military Institute, received a commission as a second lieutenant in 1902 and started rising in the ranks of the military. This was a time when that was hard to do because the military was very small compared to what developed after World War II. Marshall went to the Philippines for awhile as part of the imperialist occupying force and had several stints in positions in the U.S. He moved into logistics and operations before World War I and the 1st Division’s assistant chief of staff for operations. While in France, he was the chief planner of the Battle of Cantigny, the first important success for American troops. He became Pershing’s right-hand man after this and played a big role in planning the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

After the war, Marshall rose to Lieutenant Colonel and had a number of tasks, ranging from teaching at the Army War College to commanding divisions in China to being in charge of large swaths of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Although he opposed Franklin Roosevelt’s early plans to supply the British with military goods during the run-up to World War II, FDR respected Marshall speaking his mind and named him Army Chief of Staff in 1939, a position he held until 1945.

This made Marshall the most important single person in the American war effort. Marshall named many of his top lieutenants to key positions in the war effort–Eisenhower, Clark, Bradley, Patton. He was central to planning Operation Overlord and whereas he probably wanted to lead it himself, when Roosevelt chose Eisenhower because he felt Marshall’s presence in the states was too important, the general did not argue.

After World War II, Marshall left his job, but remained an active player in American global policy. Truman sent him to visit China, where he expressed a lot of disgust at Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists, threatening to withdraw aid if they did negotiate for a peace. More importantly, Marshall was the lead in developing the Marshall Plan while serving as Secretary of State from 1947-49. There’s no question that this was one of the biggest successes–if not the single biggest–in the history of American foreign policy. Facing communist movements in much of western and southern Europe, Marshall advocated stepping in with huge influxes of aid, both military and financial. Like everything in the Cold War, this could be morally questionable at times, such as American support of the right-wing dictatorship in Greece. But in rebuilding Europe, not only did Marshall help ensure that communists would not take power there, but he also spurred the American economy and helped make sure that the Great Depression would not return, a very real fear immediately after the war. This is as close to an unalloyed success as anything in American history.

Marshall then became Secretary of Defense in 1950. There weren’t really any great answers to the Korean War, but Marshall tried to manage it. He was extremely reticent to fire MacArthur and had to be convinced to support the move, but eventually came around. He resigned himself soon after, in September 1951.

For the rest of his life, Marshall served in small roles and was genuinely more or less retired. He did however have to deal with Joe McCarthy’s ridiculous insinuations that Marshall had sold the nation out to communists during and after World War II. This was a step way too far from the drunk from Wisconsin. The man who had created the Marshall Plan was a communist sympathizer? Huh? Even for McCarthy, this was ridiculous.

Marshall died in 1959. He is buried, with both his wives (the first died of a heart aliment, the second was an actress for a bit before she married her first husband, a lawyer killed by an angry client) on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you would like this series to profile more World War II-era figures, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. MacArthur is buried in Norfolk, for instance. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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