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 240 years old.
The Army website provides a short but thorough overview of its history. Here are five things worth knowing:
- 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, five months older than the United States Marine Corps, and 172 years older than the United States Air Force, which began as part of the Army.
- 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 awarded have gone to soldiers in the United States Army.
- There are about 491,000 active duty Army personnel. Over 54,000 are stationed overseas. May they all return home safely.
I asked Colonel Mike Rauhut, a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations this year, what to read to learn more about the Army’s history. He recommended several books from the U.S. Army Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List. Additionally, he suggested reviewing available on-line resources at the U.S. Army Center of Military History; the Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) Digital Library; and the Maneuver Center of Excellence Donovan Research Library Digital Collection.
Colonel Rauhut also suggested checking out the 240th Army Birthday web page and taking the “How well do you know your Nation’s Army?” quiz.
Here are five additional reading suggestions:
Brian McAllister Linn // Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007
Linn argues that the Army since its early years has had three enduring and often antagonistic intellectual traditions—that is, three different ways of war—reflecting assumptions and concepts that have remained remarkably consistent. He surveys the assumptions and errors of each tradition throughout the Army’s history, noting in each the tendency to discourage critical thinking and thereby to enforce complacency. The result has been an Army often ill-prepared for the wars it was called on to fight.
Craig M. Mullaney // New York: Penguin, 2009
U.S. Army Capt. Craig Mullaney recounts the hard lessons that only war can teach while fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This is a portrait of a junior officer grappling with the weight of war and coming to terms with what it means to lead others in combat.
For those most interested in the Army’s role in Europe during World War Two, Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy—An Army at Dawn; The Day of Battle; and The Guns at Last Light—provides historical insight through compelling narrative.
If you have any reading (or viewing) recommendations about the United States Army, please post in the comments below.