Robert Browning’s question about his great poetic predecessor Shelley came to me one mild September day forty years ago when at Arlington National Cemetery I said to myself, “Yes, I did once see Omar Bradley plain.” The last living five-star General of the Army, in a wheelchair, had come to the burial of the Vietnam War commander General Creighton Abrams. After the 1976 bicentennial awarding of the rank to General George Washington “effective as of 1776,” the five-star rank closed with the death of Bradley.

To me, once a boy in Second World War years, those generals—“Hap” Arnold, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, and George Marshall—were demi-gods. Or, more mundanely, they were faces on the Fleer bubble gum cards we collected and traded. Even then, the least vivid of these wartime heroes, Marshall, somehow had an aura of enigmatic authority...


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