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A posthumous promotion is an advancement in rank or position in the case of a person who is dead. Posthumous promotions are most often associated with the military, but may be granted in other fields such as business, science, or the arts.
The granting of posthumous military decorations and promotions in rank are very common for soldiers and sailors who are killed in combat. The Purple Heart is one such award which is routinely presented posthumously to service members killed in action.
The presentation in the United States Armed Forces of posthumous rank has become less common in the 21st century, but was widely used during the era of the Vietnam War and prior. One of the most famous posthumous promotions was that of George Washington to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States. The promotion took place in 1976, 177 years after Washington's death.
Promotions can occasionally be unintentionally posthumous. For instance, the Arctic explorer Captain Sir John Franklin of the Royal Navy was promoted Rear-Admiral of the Blue (the lowest rank of admiral at that time) in October 1852. He had died over five years earlier on his final expedition, but his death was not confirmed until years after his promotion.
German military personnel in World War II
In Fall 1941, Adolf Hitler decreed, that German military personnel killed, died, or missing in World War II could be promoted in rank posthumously, if certain criteria had been met. This included:
- Military personnel that would have been promoted in rank in the month following their death or disappearance according to Wehrmacht regulations;
- Personnel that had been recommended for promotion in rank by the proper authorities before their death or disappearance;
- As a recognition for meritorious service by the Commander in Chief of the branches of service, on their recommendation, or with their approval;
- In those cases where the promotion was delayed for reasons not in the responsibility of the promotee.
In principle, personnel that committed suicide would not be considered for posthumous promotion, except in special cases with approval of the commander in chief of the Wehrmacht branch concerned. In general, the posthumous promotion would be active as of the first of the month of the death or disappearance, except in cases where the promotion would have been effective from an earlier date. This decree superseded an earlier decree from January 1941 and was retroactive from 26 August 1939, the day Nazi Germany mobilized its armed forces for the Invasion of Poland.
Some business and political leaders have been granted top or honorary positions after dying. Such was the case of Kim Il-sung, promoted to a Supreme Grand Marshal after his death in North Korea. His son Kim Jong-il was similarly promoted after his own death in 2011.
- Verordnung über die Beförderung während des Kriegs gefallener, gestorbener und vermisster Soldaten. Vom 10. Oktober 1941. §1, Reichsgesetzblatt, Teil I, S. 641.
- Verordnung über die Beförderung während des Kriegs gefallener, gestorbener und vermisster Soldaten. Vom 10. Oktober 1941. §4, Reichsgesetzblatt, Teil I, S. 641.
- Reichsgesetzblatt, Teil I, S. 41
- Verordnung über die Beförderung während des Kriegs gefallener, gestorbener und vermisster Soldaten. Vom 10. Oktober 1941. Reichsgesetzblatt, Teil I, S. 642.
- Public Law 94-479 of January 19, 1976 to provide for the appointment of George Washington to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States