After a poor beginning at the institute, Marshall's record steadily improved, and he soon showed proficiency in military subjects. Once he had decided on a military career, he concentrated on leadership, ending his last year at the institute as first captain of the corps of cadets.
Marshall finished college in 1901. Immediately after receiving his commission as second lieutenant of infantry in February 1902, he married Elizabeth Carter Coles of Lexington and embarked for 18 months' service in the Philippines. Marshall early developed the rigid self-discipline, the habits of study, and the attributes of command that eventually brought him to the top of his profession. Men who served under him spoke of his quiet self-confidence, his lack of flamboyance, his talent for presenting his case to both soldiers and civilians, and his ability to make his subordinates want to do their best.
Somewhat aloof in manner, he seemed to some acquaintances cold by nature, but he had a fierce temper held under careful control and a great affection and warmth for those close to him. Happily married for 25 years to his first wife until her death in 1927, he remarried three years later, taking as his second wife a widow, Katherine Tupper Brown, whose three children gave him the family he had hitherto lacked.
After his first service in the Philippines (1902-03), he advanced steadily through the ranks, ultimately becoming general of the army in December 1944. In World War I he served as chief of operations of the 1st Division, first to go to France in 1917, and then as the chief of operations of the 1st Army during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in 1918. After the war he served for five years as aide to General John J. Pershing (1919-24) and for five years as assistant commandant in charge of instruction at the infantry school, Fort Benning, Georgia (1927-33), where he strongly influenced army doctrine as well as many officers who were to become outstanding commanders in World War II.
He was sworn in as chief of staff of the U.S. Army on Sept. 1, 1939, the day World War II began with Germany's invasion of Poland. For the next six years, Marshall directed the raising of new divisions, the training of troops, the development of new weapons and equipment, and the selection of top commanders. When he entered office, the United States forces consisted of fewer than 200,000 officers and men. Under his direction it expanded in less than four years to a well-trained and well-equipped force of 8,300,000. Marshall raised and equipped the largest ground and air force in the history of the United States, a feat that earned him the appellation of "the organizer of victory" from the wartime British prime minister, Winston Churchill. As the chief representative of the U.S. chiefs of staff at the international conferences at Casablanca, Washington, Quebec, Cairo, and Tehran, Marshall led the fight for an Allied drive on German forces across the English Channel, in opposition to the so-called Mediterranean strategy of the British.
A few days after Marshall resigned as chief of staff on Nov. 21, 1945, President Harry Truman persuaded him to attempt, as his special representative, to mediate the Chinese Civil War. Though his efforts were unsuccessful, in January 1947 he was appointed secretary of state. In June of that year he proposed a European Recovery Program, which, known as the Marshall Plan, played a decisive role in the reconstruction of war-torn Europe. Also significant during his secretaryship were the provision of aid to Greece and Turkey, the recognition of Israel, and the initial discussions that led to the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Marshall left his position because of ill health in 1949. Then, in 1950, when he was nearly 70, President Truman called him to the post of secretary of defense, in which he helped prepare the armed forces for the Korean War by increasing troop strength and materiel production and by raising morale.
After 1951 General Marshall remained on the active-duty list as the highest ranking general of the army, available for consultation by the government. In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his contributions to the economic rehabilitation of Europe after World War II and his efforts to promote world peace and understanding. He died at Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C., in 1959.
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