GENERAL OF THE ARMY / AIR FORCE OR FLEET ADMIRAL 5-STAR CAP RANK INSIGNIA

The last U.S. military officer to hold the five-star rank, General of the Army Omar Bradley, was appointed to the position on 20 September 1950. Upon his retirement in August 1953, the era of active-duty five-star Generals and Admirals drew to a close, less than a decade after it had been launched via Congressional legislation ostensibly aimed at placing America’s most senior Generals and Admirals on the same organizational level as their counterparts (Field Marshals and Admirals of the Fleet) in the British Navy.

Arguably one the most fascinating aspects of the five-star rank is that one Army officer was actually appointed to it twice. General Henry H. Arnold, whose Army aviation career began in 1911 (in July of that year he received the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot certificate, which the Army had adopted on a temporary basis for pilot qualification), had been named Chief of the fledgling Army Air Forces in 1941 and subsequently promoted to full General in March 1943. In December 1944, Congress approved Arnold’s appointment as a General of the Army, a five-star rank that placed him fourth in rank in that service behind George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight Eisenhower. Arnold guided the strategic bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan, never hesitating to make changes in the command structure if expected results were not achieved.

Arnold retired from active duty with the Army Air Forces in February, 1946, and less than a month later Congress passed legislation that made Arnold’s five-star Army appointment permanent. In May 1949, Congress again passed legislation that affected Arnold; in fact, it might as well have had his name inserted into the text. Specifically, the law established an grade in the Air Force called General of the Air Force—then stated that “the grade of any individual transferred in the grade of General of the Army from the Regular Army to the United States Air Force, pursuant to the National Security Act of 1947 [which created the Air Force], is herewith redesignated ‘General of the Air Force.’”

Of course, Arnold exercised no command authority during eight months he held the rank of General of the Air Force (he died in January 1950). But this doesn’t change the fact that, nearly seventy years later, Henry “Hap” Arnold is still the only American military officer to have held the five-star rank of two different branches of the Armed Forces of the United States—and odds are this will be even after another seventy years have elapsed.
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