from The Water's Edge

Birthday Wishes to the United States Army!

June 14, 2011

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, and Secretary of the Army John McHugh, prepare to cut the cake at the 236th Army Birthday Ball on June 11, 2011. (Spc. David Sharp/courtesy U.S. Army)
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Doughboy. GI. Grunt. Dogface. Warrior. Whatever term you prefer, if you see an active duty, former, or retired member of the United States Army today, wish their service Happy Birthday. The United States Army just turned 236 years old.

The Army website provides a short but thorough overview of its history. Here are four historical tidbits worth knowing about the Army:

  • It is the oldest of the four services. With its creation on June 14, 1775, it is four months older than the United States Navy and five months older than the United States Marine Corps.
  • Eleven Army Generals have gone on to become president of the United States: George Washington (General), Andrew Jackson (Major General), William Henry Harrison (Major General), Zachary Taylor (Major General), Franklin Pierce (Brigadier General), Andrew Johnson (Brigadier General), Ulysses S. Grant (General), Rutherford B. Hayes (Major General, Brevet), James A. Garfield (Major General, Volunteers), Benjamin Harrison (Major General, Brevet), and Dwight D. Eisenhower (General). No Navy Admiral, Marine Corps General, or Air Force General has ever been elected president. (Chester A. Arthur was Quartermaster General of the New York State Militia at the start of the Civil War, but I don’t believe he was mustered into federal service.)
  • The highest rank in the United States Army is General of the Armies of the United States. Only two men have held it: George Washington and John Pershing. Efforts to give General Douglas MacArthur the title failed. Washington got his title posthumously on July 4, 1976. During his lifetime, the highest rank he achieved was Lieutenant General. President Ford issued the executive order elevating Washington to six-star status because given the military’s strict hierarchy he was technically outranked by the four- and five-star generals who came after him. President Ford’s executive order directs that Washington shall always be considered the most senior United States military officer.
  • The Medal of Honor has been awarded to a member of the United States Army 2,403 times. Put differently, nearly 70 percent of all 3,468 Medals of Honor that have been awarded have gone to soldiers in the United States Army.

I asked Col. Gian Gentile, USA, associate professor of history and director of the military history program at the United States Military Academy at West Point as well as a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations this year, what to read if you want to know more about the Army’s history. As you would expect of someone who commanded a combat battalion in West Baghdad, his answer was quick and decisive: Russell Weigley’s “History of the United States Army.”