Highest Ranking Officers in U.S. Military History

Designated ranks in the United States Armed Forces serve to denote a clear leadership structure and chain of command within the various branches. During wartime, however, a higher chain of command is sometimes necessary, as a single military officer may be put in charge of air, land, and sea units during battle. (Read more about every rank in the U.S. Army.)

During World War II, some officers were also in command of troops from other countries. As American Army generals and Navy admirals became commanders of joint Allied forces, some found themselves in the awkward position of giving orders to officers of higher rank from other countries. Thus, five-star positions were created to give U.S. officers comparable ranks to five-star officers of other nations during multinational war operations.

To determine the highest ranking officers in U.S. history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-star admirals and generals on VeteranAid.org as well as a few outlying positions that have been equivalent to or exceeded five-star ranks. 

Fleet admiral is the five-star officer rank in the U.S. Navy, while general of the Army and general of the Air Force are the five-star equivalents in those respective branches. These positions are generally only awarded during wartime, although five-star officers retain their ranks and receive active-duty pay for the rest of their lives. 

One historical position that surpasses five-star ranks is general of the Armies, which has only been awarded twice – to World War I General John J. Pershing and posthumously to George Washington. Another outlying position that was awarded to three Union generals after the Civil War is called general of the Army, which is distinct from the five-star rank created in 1944. 

What all of these officers had in common was their skilled and successful leadership that led to victories great and small during some of the largest and bloodiest battles the U.S. has ever fought. Here are 50 of the most decorated war heroes in American history.

Click here to see the highest ranking officers in U.S. military history

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