James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Birthday Wishes to the United States Army!

by James M. Lindsay
June 14, 2014

Army Birthday Soldiers Salute U.S. Army soldiers salute during the Army's 237th anniversary celebrations at Times Square in New York on June 14, 2012. (Shannon Stapleton/Courtesy Reuters)

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 239 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 that have been awarded have gone to soldiers in the United States Army.
  • There about 518,000 active duty Army personnel. Over 80,000 are stationed overseas.  May they all return home safely.

I asked Colonel Patrick J. Mahaney, a military fellow at CFR this year, what to read if you want to know more about the Army and its history. Here are his suggestions:

If you prefer to understand the Army experience by watching movies rather than reading, Colonel Mahaney also had some film recommendations:

If you have any reading (or viewing) recommendations about the Army, please post in the comments below.

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