George Marshall was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on 31st December, 1880. He graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1901. The following year he received a commission as a second lieutenant and was sent to the Philippines.
In 1906 Marshall resumed his education at Fort Leavenworth. He graduated top of the class and qualified for the Army Staff College. When he completed the course he was kept on for another two years as an instructor.
In the First World War Marshall served on the Western Front and was involved in the planning of the Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918. Promoted to colonel Marshall served for five years as aide to General John Pershing (1919-24) and had a spell of duty in China (1924-27). This was followed by five years as an instructor at Fort Benning (1927-33).
In June 1933 Marshall was given command of the 8th Infantry and became responsible for 34 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Marshall was a strong believer in the CCC and argued that the US Army should fully support this social experiment.
Marshall was promoted to brigadier general in October, 1936, and was given command of the 5th Brigade at Vancouver Barracks in Washington. He was responsible for the CCC camps in the district. Soon afterwards he became seriously ill and had to have his thyroid gland removed. For a while it was believed that Marshall would have to be retired from the army but he eventually made a full recovery.
In August 1938, Marshall was appointed chief of the War Plans Division and three months later he became deputy Chief of Staff. This brought Marshall into contact with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and members of his administration. Harry Hopkins was especially impressed with Marshall and suggested to the president that he should become the new Chief of Staff. Roosevelt agreed and he assumed office in September 1939.
Marshall directed the United States armed forces throughout the Second World War. Over the next four years the US Army grew to a force of 8,300,000 men. Unlike his predecessor, Marshall was a strong advocate of air power and therefore got on well with General Henry Arnold. However he clashed with Admiral Ernest King over his policy of using all available resources to defeat Germany before Japan. As a result some critics have claimed that his actions prolonged the Pacific War.
In 1944 Marshall was disappointed not to have been given command of the Allied D-Day landings. However, Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that he could not afford to lose him as Chief of Staff. He was involved in the planning of the invasion and Winston Churchill later claimed that Marshall's achievements were monumental and described him as the "organizer of victory".
Marshall was given the rank of a five-star general in December 1944. Along with William Leahy he was senior to Ernest King, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and Henry Arnold. Marshall resigned as Chief of Staff on 21st November, 1945, but a few days later Harry S. Truman persuaded him to become U.S. ambassador in China.
In January 1947, Truman, who called Marshall "the greatest living American", appointed him as his Secretary of State. While in this position, Marshall devised the European Recovery Program (ERP). Over the first year the ERP spent $5,300,000,000 and played a decisive role in the reconstruction of war-torn Europe.
In 1949, ill-health forced Marshall to resign from office and he was replaced by Dean Acheson. However, the following year, aged sixty-nine, Marshall accepted the post as Secretary of Defence and helped organize United States forces in the early stages of the Korean War.
In the summer of 1951 Marshall was attacked by Joe McCarthy, the right-wing senator from Wisconsin, as being soft on communism. In a speech that McCarthy gave on 14th June, he accused the Secretary of Defence of making decisions that "aided the Communist drive for world domination" and implied that he was a traitor to his country.
Disillusioned by the smear campaign, Marshall retired from politics. However, Marshall's talents were appreciated abroad and in 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his contribution to the recovery of Europe after the Second World War. George Marshall died in Washington on 16th October, 1959.