Marshall in 30 Objects Staff Pick: Object #10 Foreign Medals Image

Portrait or Propaganda?

This photo shows Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall standing above a table map in his headquarters in the War Department in Washington, D.C., 1943. Photo by Otto Bettman, used with permission, Getty Images.

I picked Object #10 as my favorite item from our exhibit Marshall in Thirty Objects. Take a close look at the ribbons he is wearing – do you recognize them? If you don’t, that is because they are from European, Central, and South American countries. This image, by famed photographer Otto Bettman, is a prime example of Marshall’s expertise in military, visual, and cultural strategy.

As early as February 1939, Marshall was watching Brazil and Venezuela for signs of Nazi influence. The bulge of Brazil at the port of Natal was a particularly vulnerable spot, and less than 2,000 miles from Africa. Marshall feared a German invasion of America from the south.

Marshall visited Brazil that summer to determine its military capabilities. The trip was a success because Marshall was able to arrange the use of American airfields in Natal. The bases would be used during the North African campaign of 1942-43.

In the Otto Bettman image, four years later, Marshall reminds the Axis powers who is on “our side.”

Here are photos of Marshall’s trip to Brazil in 1939.

Marshall arrives by motorcade in Brazil, May 1939. GCMF Photo 00145.


Crowds gathered to greet Marshall, June 1939. GCMF Photo 00146.


Marshall at the Brazilian Embassy Reception with General Aurelio Goes Monteiro, who later cancelled his trip to Berlin, Germany. GCMF Photo 02204.


Close up of Marshall’s ribbons, photo by Otto Bettman, used with permission, Getty Images.

1st row: Distinguished Service, Silver Star, Philippine Campaign


2nd row: WWI Victory medal, Army of Occupation, American Defense Medal


3rd row: French Legion of Honor, Croix de Guerre, Panamanian Medal La Solidaridad Second Class, Order of Military Merit Grand Cross (Brazil)


4th row: Italian Order of the Crown, Order of Saints Maurice & Lazarus (Italy), Montenegro Silver Star for Bravery, Star of Abdon Calderon (Ecuador)


5th row: Order of the Sun (Peru), Order of Ouissam Alaouit (Morocco), Cuba Military Order of Merit (Other Services), Chilean Order of Merit

Check out the Marshall in 30 Objects gallery guide to see what you like!