The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
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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.
||Born in Delaware
||Receives a direct commission
into the Marine Corps
||North Atlantic Fleet
||Legation Guard, Peking
||Legation Guard, Peking|
||Inspector of Target Practice
||Commander, 2 Battalion, 6 Marine Regiment, Quantico
||Deputy commander, 6 Marine Regiment, France|
||Commander, Marine Barracks,
||Command and General Staff School
||Division of Operations and Training
||Commander, Legation Guard, Peking
||Naval War College
||Army War College
||Office of Naval Operations
||Commandant, Marine Corps School
||Dies at New Castle, Delaware
History Division (accessed 2010-7-5)
The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia © 2010, 2012 by Kent G. Budge. Index
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