After serving as chief of staff of the United States Army since World War II began in Europe on September 1, 1939, General George C. Marshall resigned from his position on November 18, 1945. Several days later Marshall agreed to attend a ceremony where he would receive an Oak Leaf Cluster for his Distinguished Service Medal. Whether Marshall was aware of it or not, the ceremony afforded the American people one final opportunity to show their appreciation for the departing chief of staff and they took full advantage of it.
The ceremony took place in the courtyard of the Pentagon where newspapers estimated that 20,000 military and civilian War Department employees were in attendance. The Oak Leaf Cluster award was presented to Marshall by President Harry S. Truman, while members of the president’s cabinet and high ranking military officials including Admiral William Leahy and Admiral Ernest King observed.
In the citation that President Truman read when presenting the award he noted, “In a war unparalleled in magnitude and in horror, millions of Americans gave their country outstanding service. General of the Army George C. Marshall gave it victory.” After describing the numerous contributions that Marshall made to the Allies’ victory President Truman concluded the citation by stating that Marshall “takes his place at the head of the great commanders of history.” General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who succeeded Marshall as chief of staff sent a message that was read at the ceremony in which he saluted Marshall, “as the greatest soldier of our time and a true leader of democracy.”
After receiving his award and listening to the tributes Marshall had an opportunity to deliver a statement. As Marshall characteristically did with most awards he accepted it, “as the agent of those who made it possible for us to stand here today in peace and thanksgiving—the soldiers of the great American Army of this war.” He continued by acknowledging that America’s success in World War II was the result of a united effort involving “millions of laboring men and women…factories of this great nation… science and management…farms, and…plain citizens” who put the needs of soldiers above their own. Marshall concluded his statement by saying, “It is to you men and women of this great citizen-army who carried this nation to victory, that we must look for leadership in the critical years ahead.” Marshall’s closing remarks indicate his confidence in the abilities of the younger population to overcome the future challenges that the country will face.
The entire ceremony lasted only 14 minutes and barely provided an opportunity for the assembled crows to show their appreciation for Marshall with applause and cheers. At its conclusion General Marshall and Mrs. Marshall promptly departed for Dodona Manor, their home in Leesburg, Virginia, where he was looking forward to beginning his retirement. Little did Marshall know that within a few days President Truman would call and ask him to go to China as a Special Representative of the President to try to negotiate a peace settlement between Communist and Nationalist forces.