General Question

Maximillian's avatar

What really is the highest rank?

Asked by Maximillian (948points) May 10th, 2010

Yes, we all know the US military is under civilian control through the president as commander-in-chief. But, what is the highest military rank? I’ve heard that during peace-time its a four-star general. But then there’s the 5-star general (aka; general of the army, like Eisenhower) during war-time. What I’m asking is that during some research, I’ve come upon a 6-star ranking. Does this even exist? Or is it another confusion between sources? Looking for answers from former-military.

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17 Answers

TogoldorMandar's avatar

I though the president was always the highest commander no matter how much stars the generals or commanders have?

quarkquarkquark's avatar

There was never actually a six-star rank, it was simply proposed, and to my paltry knowledge there were never generals with six stars on their shoulders in the U.S. Army. Apart from that, to my understanding at least, you have everything right.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Four stars (O-10) during peace and five stars (O-10 special) during wartime are the highest ranks.

Maximillian's avatar

Ok, that makes sense. I also heard that John “Black Jack” Pershing and George Washington were awarded those 6th stars post mortem. Not sure though.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Pershing was acknowledged as the highest ranking officer in the US military in 1944 when the rank of 5 star general was created. There were people that asked if he should have been considered a 6 star, but it was decided that he was a 5 star, but he was to be considered senior the the current 5 stars during WWII.

During the United States Bicentennial year, George Washington was posthumously appointed to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by the congressional joint resolution Public Law 94–479 passed on January 19, 1976, with an effective appointment date of July 4, 1976.[12] This restored Washington’s position as the highest-ranking military officer in U.S. history. He was given a title that makes him the highest ranked military officer because they felt no other officer should outrank him, but it is not really a 6 star, just a title.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

The five star rank is not necessarily for wartime. The last officer appointed to that rank was Omar Bradley in 1950. He was also the last living officer to hold 5 star rank, he died in 1981.

Eisenhower was re-appointed to five star rank after retiring as President in 1961. In order to run for the Presidency, he had to resign his five star rank and retire as a four star General in 1952. Five stars cannot be formally retired.

jaytkay's avatar

It’s odd to me that Pershing got the honor but not Ike or George C Marshall. It seems to me that the US effort in WWII hugely overshadows WWI. Maybe it was a nostalgic vote from old guys in Congress.

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Seaofclouds's avatar

@TogoldorMandar The president is the commander-in-chief and the highest in command, but he does not have a military rank. The question was about what the actual highest military rank is.

talljasperman's avatar

Field Marshal is the highest rank

ShiningToast's avatar


Kidding aside, I don’t know if there are definite rules for this.
Googling turns up what @Seaofclouds wrote, but @stranger_in_a_strange_land usually knows what he is talking about.

CaptainHarley's avatar


The rank of Field Marshall does not exist in the American Army, which is what I thought we were talking about.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Field Marshall is the British equivalent of us General of the Army (5 star). Only one American ever held the rank of Field Marshall. Douglas MacArthur held the rank of Field Marshall of the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth of Philippines from 1935–1941.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Omar Bradley was awarder the rank of 5 star in 1940, but it was in recognition of his WWII and post-war service. Everything I was taught in basic training stated that the rank of 5 star is reserved for wartime. While Bradley got his after the war, it was in recognition for his actions during the war. Here is the Department of Defense page that shows rank and rank insignia (it states that the Five Star is “Reserved for wartime only”). It’s the most reliable source I could find on the internet without copying a page out of my soldier’s handbook.

CaptainHarley's avatar


The Five-Star General rank was created ( or so I’m told ) for General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander during the run-up to the Normandy Invasion. Since most of the Allied armies had four-star generals, making Eisenhower a five-star enhanced his position as Supreme Allied Commander.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@CaptainHarley Pretty much, we wanted to have someone that was equal to or higher rank than what they had.

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