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Holcomb, Thomas (1879-1965)


Photograph of Thomas Holcomb

Marine Corps

Thomas Holcomb was Commandant of the Marine Corps when war broke out in the Pacific. He had played a crucial role in preparing the Corps for amphibious warfare, particularly in supporting Holland Smith's push for better landing craft.

Holcomb accepted a direct commission into the Corps in 1900 and served with the Atlantic Fleet and in the Philippines and China, becoming fluent in Chinese. An expert marksman, he was one of the first Marines to participate in national shooting matches and became the world champion in long-range shooting. During the First World War, he fought in the Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne campaigns in France. He became one of the most decorated officers in the Corps, holding the Navy Cross, four Silver Stars and a Purple Heart.

Holcomb graduated with distinction from the Command and General Staff School in June 1925, the Naval War College in 1931, and the Army War College in 1932. He served as Commandant of the Marine Corps School prior to being promoted over a number of senior officers to become the 17th Commandant of the Corps in December 1936. In the spring of 1937 he expressed his views on leadership to officer candidates at the Basic School (Hoffman 2001):

There is one characteristic of enlisted men that I especially wish to point out to you, and that is their rapid and accurate appraisal of their officers. You will not for long be able to deceive your men, either with regard to your professional ability or your character.... Every military organization, by virtue of the power of example, is like a mirror in which the commander sees himself reflected. Whether consciously or unconsciously, men take their cue from their officers. If the officer is diligent, his men will strive to exceed him in diligence; if he is thorough they will be thorough; if he is thoughtful of them, they will constantly be seeking opportunities to do something for him.

Holcomb became the first Commandant to reach the rank of lieutenant general, on 20 January 1942, and the first Marine to be promoted to full General, on his retirement on 1 January 1944. His retirement was delayed beyond the regulation retirement age by order of President Roosevelt, in part because the man Holcomb wanted to see as his successor, Alexander Vandegrift, had to take command of I Marine Amphibious Corps after the accidental death of its commander, Charles D. Barrett.

Following his retirement, Holcomb served for several years as U.S. Minister to the Union of South Africa.

Service record

1879-8-5   

Born in Delaware
1900-4-13
Second lieutenant     
Receives a direct commission into the Marine Corps
1902-9

North Atlantic Fleet
1903-3
First lieutenant

1904-4

Philippines
1905-9

Legation Guard, Peking
1906-10

Philippines
1908-5-13     
Captain

1908-12

Legation Guard, Peking
1914-10

Inspector of Target Practice
1916-8-29
Major

1917-8

Commander, 2 Battalion, 6 Marine Regiment, Quantico
1918-2
Lieutenant colonel     
Deputy commander, 6 Marine Regiment, France
1922-9

Commander, Marine Barracks, Guantanamo Bayq
1942-6

Command and General Staff School
1925-6

Division of Operations and Training
1928-12-22     
Colonel

1927-8

Commander, Legation Guard, Peking
1930-6

Naval War College
1931-6

Army War College
1932-6

Office of Naval Operations
1935-2-1
Brigadier general
Commandant, Marine Corps School
1936-12-1
Major general
Commandant of the Corps
1942-1-20
Lieutenant general     

1944-1-1
General
Retires
1965-5-24

Dies at New Castle, Delaware

References

Boatner (1996)

Hoffman (2001)

USMC History Division (accessed 2010-7-5)


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