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About Thomas Holcomb
General Thomas Holcomb (August 5, 1879 – May 24, 1965) was the seventeenth Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (1936–1943). He was the first Marine to achieve the rank of General. After retiring from the Marine Corps, Holcomb served as Minister to South Africa (1944–1948).
Holcomb was born on August 5, 1879 in New Castle, Delaware. He attended private schools there until 1893 when his family moved to Washington, D.C. He graduated from Western High School in 1897.
Marine Corps career
Holcomb was appointed a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps from civilian life on April 13, 1900. Second Lieutenant Holcomb was on detached duty with a company of Marines organized for service with a Marine battalion attached to the North Atlantic Fleet from September 1902 to April 1903. He was promoted to first lieutenant March 3, 1903. He served in the Philippine Islands from April 1904 to August 1905, and in October and November 1906.
He was on duty with the Legation Guard in Peking, China, from September 1905 to September 1906. He was appointed a captain May 13, 1908 and from December of that year to July 1910, he again served with the Legation Guard at Peking. He continued on duty in Peking as Attache on the Staff of the American Minister for study of the Chinese language and remained until May 1911. In December 1911, he was again ordered to the Legation at Peking to continue his study of the Chinese language and continued in that capacity until May 1914.
Captain Holcomb served as Inspector of Target Practice in the Marine Corps from October 1914 to August 1917. While serving as such, he was promoted to the rank of major on August 29, 1916.
World War I
From August 1917 to January 1918, Maj Holcomb commanded the 2d Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, at the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, in preparation of overseas duty. From February 1918 to July of the next year, following his appointment to lieutenant colonel on June 4, 1920, he served with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France. He commanded the 2d Battalion from August 1918 and served as second in command of the 6th Marine Regiment, taking part in the Aisne Defensive (Chateau Thierry), the Aisne-Marne Offensive (Soissons), the Marbache Sector, the St. Mihiel Offensive, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Champagne), the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Argonne Forest), and the March to the Rhine in Germany following the Armistice.
In recognition of his distinguished services in France, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with three Oak Leaf Clusters, a Meritorious Service Citation by the Commander-in-Chief, AEF, the Purple Heart, and was three times cited in General Orders of the Second Division, AEF. The French Government conferred on him the Cross of the Legion of Honor and three times awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
1920s - 1936
From September 1922 to June 1924, he commanded the Marine Barracks, Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and on his return to the United States was ordered to the Command and General Staff School of the Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Upon completion of the course as a Distinguished Graduate, in June 1925, he was ordered to Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) for duty in the Division of Operations and Training, where he remained until June 1927. He was promoted to colonel on December 22, 1928.
From August 1927 to February 1930, Col Holcomb commanded the Marine Detachment, American Legation, Peking, China. In June 1930, he went to the Naval War College as a student, Senior Course. He graduated in June 1931. He was then ordered to the Army War College, graduating a year later.
From June 1932 to January 1935, prior to his appointment to brigadier general, he served in the Office of Naval Operations, Navy Department. He was promoted to brigadier general on February 1, 1935. He served as Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, until November 1936.
Commandant of the Marine Corps
In April 1941 the US Navy convened its General Board to discuss expansion of the Corps. Holcomb said that African Americans had no right to serve as Marines. He said, "If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites."
With his advancement to lieutenant general on January 20, 1942, he became the highest-ranking officer ever to command the Marine Corps up to that time.
On August 5, 1943, when LtGen Holcomb reached the regular retirement age, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced he was continuing LtGen Holcomb as Commandant of the Marine Corps, in recognition of his outstanding services in that capacity. Holcomb continued as Commandant until December 31, 1943. He was succeeded by LtGen Alexander A. Vandegrift.
During LtGen Holcomb’s seven year tour of duty as Commandant, the Marine Corps expanded from 16,000 to about 300,000 Marines. Also, on February 13, 1943, he officially announced that women were eligible to serve in the Marine Corps; a date that is recognized and celebrated as the anniversary of women in the Marine Corps.
On April 12, 1944, Holcomb was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his outstanding work as Commandant.
Retirement from the Marine Corps; 4-star general
After nearly 44 years as a Marine, LtGen Holcomb retired on January 1, 1944. Because he had been specially commended for his performance of duty in actual combat, he was advanced one rank on the retired list in accordance with a newly passed Act of Congress. He thus became the first Marine ever to hold the rank of General.