The United States Army celebrates its 248th birthday today. If you see an active duty, former, or retired member of the U.S. Army today, wish their service a happy birthday.
The official Army website provides a short but thorough overview of its history. Here are five things worth knowing:
- The Army is the oldest of the six services. It was created on June 14, 1775, making it four months older than the United States Navy, five months older than the United States Marine Corps, five years older than the United States Coast Guard, 172 years older than the United States Air Force (which began as part of the Army), and 244 years older than the United States Space Force (which was spun out of Air Force Space Command in 2019).
- 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 Coast Guard or Navy admiral, and no Marine Corps, Air Force, or Space 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 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 Gerald 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 U.S. military officer.
- The Medal of Honor has been awarded 2,466 times to members of the Army. Put differently, approximately 70 percent of all 3,516 recipients of the Medal of Honor have worn the Army uniform. The most recent member of the Army to be recognized with the Medal of Honor is Captain Paris Davis. President Joe Biden placed the blue ribbon holding the medal around Paris’s neck in March, nearly sixty years after he risked his life to save his comrades fighting the North Vietnamese. Last July, Biden award the Medal of Honor to four other Army veterans whose heroism in Vietnam was not fully recognized at the time.
- There are roughly 452,000 active duty Army personnel.
I asked Colonel Tim MacDonald, a U.S. Army officer who has spent the past year as a military fellow at CFR, for his recommendations on what to read to learn more about the U.S. Army. Here are four books he recommends and why they are worth reading:
Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers (1992). Ambrose’s book and the accompanying mini-series depict the journey of Easy Company, a unit within the 101st Airborne Division, during World War II. It emphasizes the importance of teamwork, cohesion, and resilience in the face of adversity. This story resonates today because it reinforces the significance of building cohesive teams in today's Army.
Jerri Bell and Tracy Crow, It's My Country Too (2017). This collection of stories told by women from the Civil War to Afghanistan highlights their incredible and inspiring experiences serving their country. As we celebrate the Army's 248th birthday, these stories remind you of the diverse contributions and sacrifices made by women throughout history, highlighting their dedication and bravery.
Romie L. Brownlee and William J. Mullen III, "Changing an Army: An Oral History of General William E. DePuy, USA Retired (1987). From service in World War II to Vietnam, and then as the first commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, General DePuy’s oral history provides insights into the transformation and evolution of the Army. His personal accounts help us gain a deeper understanding of the Army's history, leadership, and the challenges faced in adapting and improving the organization.
David McCullough, 1776 (2005). McCullough focuses on the Revolutionary War and specifically highlights the major battles, trials, and tribulations of the year 1776. Reading this book allows you to reflect on the struggles and perseverance of the early American Soldiers who fought for the establishment of the United States. It serves as a reminder of the Army's historical legacy and the values that continue to guide its members.
Col. MacDonald also recommended a documentary to watch and a podcast to listen to about the Army:
No Greater Love (2015). This award-winning documentary offers a Soldier's perspective on war and its aftermath. It follows Army Chaplain Justin David Roberts and the "No Slack" Battalion, capturing the realities of combat and the bonds formed among soldiers. This documentary reminds you of the sacrifices and emotional toll experienced by soldiers and provides a deeper understanding of their experiences, fostering empathy and appreciation for their service.
Army Matters (ongoing). The Association of the United States Army’s podcast uplifts the voices of the Total Army, presenting one captivating story at a time. With a diverse range of topics that resonate with listeners, to include inspiring leadership narratives, the compelling journeys of military families, and comprehensive explorations of the Army's history, present, and future.
Col. MacDonald also recommends giving the Military Review, a professional journal published by the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, a read. It serves as a forum for military professionals to share ideas, insights, and lessons learned. Accessible to military personnel, defense professionals, scholars, and the general public, it offers a platform to explore the Army's experiences, doctrine, and professional insights, helping readers gain a comprehensive understanding of the Army's past, present, and future. By regularly engaging with this publication, individuals can deepen their knowledge of military affairs and contribute to ongoing discussions within the military community.
Finally, Col. MacDonald recently co-authored this article about the importance of integrating behavioral health knowledge and practices in Army leadership.
Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.