Earning the rank of Four-Star General in the Marines is perhaps the most difficult rank to achieve in any branch of the military. Marine generals have seen a lot of action in the years leading up to the ultimate promotion, and only a few dozen men have been named to the position. Some of them have been influential in political and militaristic strategy, though some have very short terms. Then, there are men who served over six years as a Four-Star General. There are only five of them, but these men were the ones that held the rank the longest before retiring.
James E. Cartwright
James “Hoss” Cartwright joined the Marines in 1971 when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Over the years, Cartwright moved his way up the ranks and was assigned as Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing from 2000 to 2002. In the summer of 2004, Cartwright was the Acting Commander, United States Strategic Command and was sworn in as full-time Commander on September 1 that year.
On the same day, Cartwright became the 40th Four-Star General as part of the USSC. He played a big part in the War on Terror during the Bush administration and served as a Four-Star General for seven years, retiring on August 3, 2011. Cartwright then pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2016 during an investigation on leaked classified info but was pardoned by Barack Obama the following year.
Born in New York City, Peter Pace grew up in New Jersey and graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1967. Pace earned a dozen medals during his career in the Marines, including his time as Commander during the late 1990s. On September 8, 2000, he was promoted to the rank of Four-Star General and maintained the position until retiring on June 8, 2007.
Pace made headlines due to his hearings in Congress where things became contentious, leading to his retirement. Still, he was able to serve for just under seven years and was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Since then, he has been in the business world while also getting into political interests, nearly becoming Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor.
James L. Jones
James L. Jones was born in Kansas City, Missouri 1943 to a father who was a highly-decorated Marine during World War II and decided to follow in his father’s footsteps at the start of the Vietnam War. Jones had attended Georgetown University prior to joining the Marines and was assigned to Camp Pendleton in 1968. Jones remained in the Marines for 40 years, earning several awards along the way.
In 1999, Jones was up for the nomination to become the newest general in the Marines, and on July 1 he assumed the position. Jones maintained the position of Four-Star General until his retirement on February 1, 2007. As General, he was the 14th Supreme Allied Commander Europe and after his retirement became the U.S. National Security Advisor under Barack Obama.
Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr.
After he was born in Norfolk, Virginia on February 10, 1896, Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr. stayed in the state and attended the Virginia Military Institute. Shepherd was an early graduate, joining the Marines during World War I. He fought at the Battle of Belleau Wood, and afterward moved up the ranks of the Marines.
Shepherd also fought in World War II, earning himself another long list of medals, and was part of the Battle of Okinawa. During the Korean War, Harry Truman named Shepherd the Commandant of the Marine Corps, earning him the rank of Four-Star General, and was just the third man to hold that honor. In September 1959, Shepherd retired after nearly eight years as general and spent a quiet retirement in California until passing away in 1990 at 94 years old.
Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
Boston, Massachusetts native Joseph Dunford graduated from several schools and academies, including Georgetown University and the United States Army War College early in his life. Dunford joined the Marine Corps in 1977 in a time without a lot of conflict around the world. Dunford quickly earned promotions and was given the nickname “Fighting Joe” during this time.
Robert Gates nominated Dunford to become the newest Four-Star General in the ranks and was approved in 2010, taking the position on October 23. Dunford became the longest-serving Four-Star General with nine years under his belt before retiring on November 1, 2019. Since then, he has joined the board of directors with Argentina-based satellite company Satellogic.