In August 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Naval Appropriations Act (1916), officially creating a Naval and Marine Corps Reserve. This Act focused upon the mobilization status of individuals not units and provided for the wartime expansion of the Corps without changing its statutory regular strength. When war was declared on Germany, the Marine Corps Reserve totaled just 3 officers and 32 enlisted men. During the course of WWI the figure grew to 276 officers and 5,968 enlisted men, all of whom were either incorporated into the regular Marine Corps or returned to civilian life at the end of the war.
With the passage of the Naval Reserve Act of 1925, the Marine Corps Reserve was organized and paid for services rendered, quite a feat since the entire military was being downsized at the time. It was at this time that a visionary, Melvin Maas stepped forward and, with other reserve officers, founded the Marine Corps Reserve Officers Association (MCROA). The organization which would produce the highly trained and strong Reserve Force they knew would be needed in future conflicts. The operation was run on a shoestring, but fortunately Melvin Maas was elected to Congress in 1926.
Subsequently, Melvin Mass and his contemporaries lived through some times, e.g. both the ground and aviation units were allowed two weeks of summer training but without pay and they had to purchase much of their own equipment. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover, as an economy measure, proposed merging the Marine Corps with the Army. Congressman Maas (Captain, USMCR) took to the airwaves over an 87-station hookup with an urgent appeal to the American public. The broadcast was a success because Americans remembered St. Michel, Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood. The result was a reversal in the President’s decision.
In 1935, MCROA’s efforts to build a strong Reserve were successful in that the House Naval Affairs Committee approved an increase in “Drill Status” Reserves to 485 officers and 6,500 enlisted men and a standby or volunteer Reserve of 2,155 officers and 16,050 enlisted men. Later, in 1938, a new Naval Reserve Act was passed which became the legal foundation for the development of the Marine Corps Reserve program as we know it today. Behind passage of that legislation were Melvin Maas, Karl Day and Arthur Hanson, to name three.
Aware that its war plans required two to three times as many Marines as it could maintain on active duty, Headquarters Marine Corps gave its reserve program greater attention in the interwar period, especially training junior officers. Of the 600,000 men and women who served in the Marine Corps in World War II, about two‐thirds fell into some reserve category that provided for the service of retirees, wartime volunteers and draftees, college students, volunteers below draft age, specialists, limited service personnel, and women.
The Marine Corps Women's Reserve (MCWR) was authorized by Congress in July 1942 to relieve male Marines for combat duty in World War II. However, Maj. Gen. Comm. Thomas Holcomb delayed until October, when mounting losses, an order to add 164,273 Marines, and a plan to include draftees (viewed as a threat to the Corps' elite volunteer image) forced him to consider joining the other services in accepting women in uniform.
In January 1943, the MCWR swore in its first director, Maj. Ruth Cheney Streeter, 47, wife of an attorney and mother of four. The MCWR officially began on 13 February 1943. In March, the first 71 officer candidates arrived at the U.S. Midshipmen School at Mount Holyoke College; 722 enlisted women entered boot camp at Hunter College in New York City.
More than half of the WRs performed clerical work; the others were assigned various duties, including radio operator, photographer, parachute rigger, motor transport driver, aerial gunnery instructor, link trainer instructor, control tower operator, automotive mechanic, teletype operator, cryptographer, laundry manager, and assembly and repair mechanic. At the end of the war, the MCWR had 820 officers and 17,640 enlisted women. They worked in 225 specialties, filling 85 percent of the enlisted jobs at Marine Corps Headquarters and comprising nearly two‐thirds of the permanent personnel at all large posts and stations.
Demobilization began in June 1945, and the office of the wartime MCWR closed June 1946. However, the need for clerks to process separation orders and transportation, and settle the accounts of thousands of combat Marines, plus a growing sense of the inevitability of a permanent women's military organization, prevented total disbandment. Several hundred WRs were retained at headquarters until June 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act giving equal status to women in uniform. Women then became part of the regular Marine Corps. We all know about the Marine Corps Reserves' valiant service in WWII. Suffice it to say that the Reserves accounted for 68% of the enlisted strength and 80% of the Corps' officer strength.
In 1947, the Armed Forces Unification Act, which created the new Department of Defense, was aimed at the abolishment of the Marine Corps in the name of unification. President Harry Truman wanted us to become a ceremonial outfit. Melvin Maas, Karl Day and Arthur (Tim) Hanson rallied our friends on Capitol Hill and drove passage of sufficient amendments to preserve the Corps as the Nation’s Force in Readiness. The Cold War military establishment required a higher level of reserve training readiness as well as more reservists. The Reserve Forces Act (1948) finally provided regularized pay for drills and active duty training as well as a retirement system. The Marine Corps divided its members into an Organized Marine Corps Reserve (OMCR) (drill pay units); Volunteer Training Units (no pay, but retirement credit points); and the Volunteer Reserve (a pool of veterans with no training obligations, but some active duty training opportunities). The last group became known as the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). In 1950, the Marine Corps Reserve numbered almost 40,000 members of the OMCR and 88,000 members in other categories. Over 95 percent of these Marines came on active duty during the Korean War.
The Korean War saw the Marine Corps expand from 75,000 regulars to a peak strength of 261,000 Marines, most of whom were reservists. Complete mobilization of the organized ground Reserve had been accomplished in just 53 days, from July 20 to Sept. 11, 1950. Of the Marines participating in the Inchon invasion, 17 percent were reservists. By June 1951, the proportion of reservists in Marine Corps units in Korea had increased to nearly 50 percent, and during the war, 48 percent of all 1st Marine Aircraft Wing combat sorties were flown by Marine reservists. Between July 1950 and June 1953, about 122,000 reservists, both recruits and veterans, saw active duty with the Marine Corps.
In 1951, Melvin Maas, Karl Day, Arthur (Tim) Hanson, along with Clifton Gates, James Devereux, Mike Mansfield, and Justice Chambers worked tirelessly for passage of what is today Title X Sections 141 (c) and 5013(a) of the United States Code. This law, which guarantees a Corps of three division/wing teams and a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the Commandant for matters related to the Marine Corps, was fought by the other services and the civilian organizations which represent them. MCROA was the only organization to come down on the side of the Corps to lobby senators and representatives for passage, following a media blitz which ensured that the American voter knew what was at stake in the bill’s deliberation.
Reserve reform acts in 1952, 1955, and 1957 did much to improve the preactivation readiness of Marine reserves. The most important provision (1955) was that all Marine reservists complete at least six months of initial active duty training before joining an Organized Marine Corps Reserve unit. The requirements for reserve officers were even more stringent undefined two or more years of active duty. The requirements for training increased. Summer camps expanded to two weeks, and drills shifted from one night a week to one or more weekends a month. The Ready Reservists numbered around 45,000 in drill pay units and 80,000 in the Individual Ready Reserve.
In the early 1960s, the Organized (or Select) Marine Corps Reserve became a regular part of the Fleet Marine Force: the 4th Marine Division, the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, and the 4th Force Service Support Group. Unlike the army, the active duty Marine Corps (around 190,000 before and after the Vietnam War) remained four times as large as the organized reserves. Marine Corps reserve units did not mobilize for the war, but countless thousands of reservists volunteered as individuals for active duty in Southeast Asia.
After a troubled transition to an All‐Volunteer Force system in the 1970s, the Marine Corps Reserve rebuilt itself into a force of 40,000 members of the Select Reserve and 68,000 members of the Individual Ready Reserve. Around 28,000 members of this force came on active duty by volunteering or by federal activation to serve in the Persian Gulf War (1991). Operation Desert Storm showed that the policy of extensive active duty training and a generous commitment of regulars and full‐time reservists to reserve training and administration paid dividends in readiness. In 1992, Marine Reserve Force was activated and became the largest command in the Marine Corps. Two years later, it was re-designated as Marine Forces Reserve in order to keep it in line with its Fleet Marine Force Command counterparts.
I tell you this story because many of members have no idea how important MCRA has been to the survival of the Corps as we know it today. MCRA and its predecessor, MCROA, have always been at the forefront in actions taken to ensure the Corps’ rightful place in in our society. Going forward, MCRA will again be at the forefront to help ensure our Marine Reserves are ready in every way possible to fight the Global War on Terrorism. We are and always will be the “The Advocate for the Marine Corps Reserve”