Know Your Military

DOD Marks 70th Anniversary of First Joint Chiefs Chairman

Aug. 14, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the swearing-in of Army Gen. Omar N. Bradley as the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The need for the office grew out of the experiences of World War II.

The war made the need for joint force obvious, but that did not mean the amalgamation of the services under the Department of Defense in 1947 was not contentious. Personnel in all services saw the legislation — which also established the U.S. Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency — as a lessening of influence.

Head-and-shoulders portrait of five-star general.
Army Omar N. Bradley
Portrait of General of the Army Omar N. Bradley as the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Photo By: National Archives
VIRIN: 190812-O-ZZ999-0812

Bradley had been the Army chief of staff when President Harry S. Truman tapped him to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The chiefs consisted of the chairman, the Army chief of staff, the chief of naval operations and the Air Force chief of staff. 

The Marine Corps commandant was an advisor. A Marine did not become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until 1978.

Leadership is intangible, and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it."
General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, First Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The chiefs served as military advisors to the president, defense secretary and other members of the National Security Council. 

Bradley was the logical choice for the new position. He commanded the 12th Army Group in Europe during World War II. With a combat strength of 1.3 million soldiers in four field armies, it remains the largest U.S. Army formation in history.

Bradley was called "the G.I.'s General" for his concern for soldiers, and he commanded troops from the Tunisia campaign, through Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge to VE-Day on May 8, 1945. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, he was a classmate of General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower and a protegee of General of the Army George C. Marshall.

Defense Secretary Louis Johnson swore in Bradley during a Pentagon ceremony Aug. 16, 1949.

Portrait in hallway.
General Portrait
The portrait of General of the Army Omar N. Bradley in a Joint Staff corridor in the Pentagon.
Photo By: Jim Garamone, DOD
VIRIN: 190813-D-FN314-001C

"I believe that by having a chairman, we can greatly improve the efficiency of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in our strategic planning and other duties with which we are charged," Bradley said in a newly discovered film of the event. "I must admit that I take this position with somewhat mixed feelings, because in a way it takes me away from the men and women of the Army who have been so loyal and helpful to me in carrying out my duties, not only as chief of staff, but in the years gone by."

I learned that good judgment comes from experience and that experience grows out of mistakes."
General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, First Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Bradley's term as chairman was contentious, with North Korea invading South Korea in 1950, the Soviet Union solidifying its hold on Eastern Europe, and China consolidating communist hegemony in the world's most populous nation. 

Bradley put the pressures of the job in perspective in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1951: "The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in view of their global responsibilities and their perspective with respect to the worldwide strategic situation, are in a better position than any single theater commander to assess the risk of general war," he said. "Moreover, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are best able to judge our own military resources with which to meet that risk."

U.S. president promotes soldier.
Presidential Promotion
President Harry S. Truman promotes Omar N. Bradley to General of the Army in 1950. Bradley, who commanded the largest U.S. formation in history during World War II, is the only five-star general to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Photo By: National Archives
VIRIN: 190814-O-ZZ999-0814

Other aspects Bradley handled were helping to establish NATO's command structure, negotiating among the U.S. services on strategies and funds, and rebuilding the U.S. armed forces, which – in the afterglow of victory in 1945, had been cut to the bone. 

Bradley was promoted to General of the Army on Sept. 22, 1950 — the only chairman to attain five-star rank.

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