Perhaps she was tired after a long, leg-tingling day of inaugural coverage. Or maybe NBC’s Ann Curry doesn’t know much about the history of the U.S. military, or its rank structure.
Whatever the reason, Ms. Curry was a bit off in her reporting from last night’s Commander-in-Chief’s Ball in Washington. Chatting with anchor Brian Williams, the “Today” show news reader observed that “there won’t be many five-star generals” at the evening’s biggest military gala.
This may come as a surprise to Ann Curry, but by our count, there weren’t any five-star flag officers at the event, for a simple reason: all the Americans who attained the rank of General of the Army or Fleet Admiral are long-deceased.
The last of the nation’s five-star officers, General Omar Bradley, died in 1981, just months after attending Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural. Bradley was the nation’s last General of the Army on active duty before his retirement in 1953.
Other generals who attained five-star rank–Dwight Eisenhower, Henry “Hap” Arnold, George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur–left active duty in the late 1940s or early 1950s, and passed away well before General Bradley. The same applies to the Navy officers who reached the rank of Fleet Admiral: Ernest J. King, Chester Nimitz, William Leahy and “Bull Halsey.” Nimitz, the Navy’s last surviving five-star officer, died in 1966.
Technically, both General of the Army and Fleet Admiral are wartime ranks, authorized by Congress for only a handful of senior officers. While the ranks still exist on military charts, no officer has attained five-start status since the Korean War and many believe the rank was “retired” with the passing of General Bradley. There was some talk (in the early 1990s) of awarding a fifth star to Colin Powell and Norman Schwartzkopf, but both men retired at four-star rank.
Little wonder those Fleet Admirals and Generals of the Army were conspiciously absent from the Commander-in-Chief’s ball. Memo to Ms. Curry: if any of those legendary officers were on hand last night, it was strictly in spirit. We hope she didn’t waste too much time trying to land an exclusive interview with General Marshall.