George Washington, the Only Six-Star General in History

The exalted echelons of the five-star generalship, a realm of utmost rarity, are reserved for a chosen cadre of individuals. A mere handful of names grace this pantheon: George C. Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Henry “Hap” Arnold, and Omar Bradley. Singular among them, Hap Arnold, donned the mantle of generalship in both the hallowed Army and the ethereal Air Force, an unparalleled distinction that rests solely upon his shoulders. Yet, this grandeur is but a fleeting shadow before an even more august figure, one who now dwells within the annals of history for over two centuries.

The year was 1976, a year resplendent with the celebration of the nation’s bicentennial on the fabled July 4th. It was upon this auspicious juncture that George Washington, enshrined in the realm beyond, was posthumously elevated to the sublime station of General of the Armies of the United States. In the tapestry of Washington’s military sojourn, he bore the insignia of a modest major general—two stars adorning his rank. Yet, in the post-presidential epoch, the hand of John Adams raised him to the lofty position of lieutenant general—a trinity of stars now graced his visage. This configuration endured through the annals of time, as successive four- and five-star generals strode forth, eclipsing the luminary’s rank.

Following the crescendo of World War I’s triumphs, it was General John J. Pershing who first glimpsed the zenith of General of the Armies of the United States. The chronicles of history, however, witnessed the nascent days of the five-star domain, and thus, Pershing retained the sheen of a four-star generalship (with his resplendent insignia gilded in gold, an ode to his uniqueness). The year 1944 ushered in the creation of the five-star appellations, yet, in a clarion declaration, the War Department heralded Pershing as the sovereign pinnacle of military hierarchy.

But the paradigms shifted in the epoch of 1976. The verbiage etched upon the hallowed parchment of legislation, a testament of honor to Washington, resonates thus [PDF]: “Contemplating it fitting and congruous that no officer of the United States Army should ascend beyond the station of Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list: Therefore, it is resolved by the august assembly of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, conjoined in Congress, that… The President is endowed with the authority and charged with the solemn duty to appoint George Washington posthumously to the exalted grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such investiture to culminate in full glory on the sacred date of July 4, 1976.”

In the realm of technicality, the legislative edict, while abstaining from bequeathing the title of a six-star general, has spurred forth a torrent of contention. A school of thought propounds that Washington’s ascent, as ordained, embodies the elusive sextant. The pages of yesteryears’ newspapers, bedecked with ink, did herald this view back in the halcyon days of 1976.

Yet, whether through star-strewn skies or mortal mists, the essence remains unmarred: the legislate decree is a reverent symbol, an homage etched in metaphysical ink upon the parchment of history. Barring the implausible advent of a somber zombie crescendo, the heart of the matter remains in the realm of symbolism. One truth remains unassailable amidst the fickle winds of temporal vagaries: devoid of Washington’s valor, the Fourth of July would be naught but a numeral upon the calendar, and no gallant soul shall ever ascend above this zenith.

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