Leadership University

Eisenhower's Fifth Star

Dwight D. Eisenhower earned a four-star general rank through his long and distinguished career in the United States Army. With his fourth star, Eisenhower commanded the North African Theater of Operations (NATOUSA) and eventually the entire Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). In this role, he oversaw D-Day, the liberation of Paris, and the rolling back of German forces in Western Europe.

On December 20, 1944, four months before fighting ceased in Europe, Congress promoted Eisenhower to general of the army — a five star rank. The promotion had little to do with Eisenhower's performance or any new accomplishment.

In truth, British General Bernard Montgomery had been awarded a fifth star in September, and the U.S. Congress did not want its generals outranked by anyone. So Eisenhower, in effect, was awarded a fifth star without having to earn it.

Of course, we now know that Eisenhower still had many years of service ahead of him: more than three years as president of Columbia University, two years as Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and eight years as president of the United States. When Eisenhower was awarded a fifth star, in other words, some of his toughest leadership challenges were still ahead of him.

Through sixteen years of continued service to his country, Eisenhower certainly earned his fifth star. This is why at Leadership University, we award a fifth star to students automatically with a challenge: earn it through a long career dedicated to hard work, service, and effective, ethical leadership.

Page last modified November 25, 2013