General George C. Marshall
George.C Marshall.jpg
Rank General
Affiliations United States Army, Chief of Staff
Birth December 31, 1880
Death October 16, 1959
Weapon None

George C. Marshall was Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army in the Second World War. He is the only historical figure portrayed in Saving Private Ryan, played by Harve Presnell.[1]

In the Film[edit | edit source]

It is because of General Marshall that Captain John H. Miller and his men went searching for Private James Francis Ryan. Above both General Eisenhower, commander of the European Theater, and General MacArthur, commander of the Pacific Theater, only General Marshall would know of both the deaths of Peter Ryan and Sean Ryan in Normandy, and the death of Daniel Ryan in New Guinea.

Shortly after D-day General Marshall is told by his aide, a Colonel, that three of the Ryan brothers have been lost. His staff initially disapproves of the idea of sending a rescue squad to search for Ryan. General Marshall then reads aloud a November 1864 condolence letter from President Lincoln to a Mrs. Bixby who had lost five sons in the Union Army during the Civil War.[2] After reciting the letter, General Marshall orders the mission.

When Private Ryan is recovered, General Marshall writes a letter personally to Mrs. Margaret Ryan to inform her that her surviving son is returning home, wishes her good health and many years of happiness, and quotes from the Lincoln letter once more.

In Real Life[edit | edit source]

The real life GEN George C. Marshall, USA (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)

George Catlett Marshall, Jr[3], was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on December 31, 1880. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and began his career in the U.S. Army in 1902 as an infantry officer. Marshall served in the western United States and in the Philippines before serving as an aide to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe, during the First World War. He excelled as an operations planner, strategist, and organiser. Marshall commanded the 15th Infantry in China in the 1920s, and served as an instructor at the Army War College and the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He commanded other units, worked with the National Guard, and ran the Army's War Plans Division before becoming Army Deputy Chief of Staff in 1938. General Marshall became Chief of Staff on September 1, 1939, as the Second World War began, and was only the fourth Chief of Staff in history up to that time who was not a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

During the war, General Marshall became the leading figure in the U.S. military, building, organizing and equipping the U.S. Army for victory. He selected talented pre-war colonels like Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton and moved them into senior leadership roles. He conceived and successfully argued for the strategy of the Normandy landings. In December 1944, Marshall was one of four officers promoted to the five-star rank of General of the Army, and the senior one in precedence, followed by Douglas MacArthur, Hap Arnold (chief of the Army Air Force), and Dwight Eisenhower. Omar Bradley would be the last officer promoted to this rank, in 1950.[4]

After retiring from the Army, Marshall served briefly and unsuccessfully as the U.S. mediator between the Nationalists and the Communists in China. President Harry S. Truman appointed him Secretary of State in 1947. In this position he created the postwar economic cooperation initiative officially known as the European Recovery Program, but popularly called the 'Marshall Plan'. He also laid the groundwork for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Marshall retired for the second time in 1949 and served as President of the American Red Cross. In 1950 he was recalled again to serve as Secretary of Defense, rebuilding and reorienting U.S. forces after initial setbacks in the Korean War.

Marshall retired for good in 1951. In 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the European Recovery Program, the only career soldier ever to achieve this honor. He died on October 16, 1959.

An austere man with whom few could claim intimacy, Marshall was devoted to his family. His first wife, Lily Carter Coles, died in 1927. They had no children. His second wife, Katherine Tupper Brown, had three children from a previous marriage; Molly, Clifton, and Allen; to which Marshall became their stepfather. Clifton and Allen served in the Second World War, and Allen was killed fighting in Italy on May 29, 1944; the week before the Normandy invasion and the events in Saving Private Ryan.[5]

General Marshall is remembered for his strategic vision, his organizational skill, his integrity, and as one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century. His former home in Leesburg, Virginia, is now a museum and home to the George C. Marshall International Center[6]. His papers and another museum are housed at his alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington, Virginia, administered by the George C. Marshall Foundation.[7]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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