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USMC WWI Centennial Home


The U.S. Marines in World War I Part I: The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Comes to the Fore is the first of a new a two-part series on the Marine Corps in the Great War by Colonel Walter G. Ford, USMC (Ret). The article documents the evolution, training, and contribution of the Marine Corps Reserve during the war, form early effort to establish state naval militias to the formation of the Marine Corps Reserve on August 29, 1916.

The timing of their establishment was critical to the exponential expansion of the Marine Corps in WWI. Even with the summer 1916 establishment of the Reserves, when war was declared on April 6, 1917 the Reserve had just 3 commissioned officers and 36 enlisted men to call for active duty. The U.S. Marine Corps had less than 14,000 men on active duty, with 1,091 Reserve and National Naval Volunteers available for mobilization. By mid-November of 1918, the Marine Corps had grown to more than 75,000 men and women on active duty -- 7,256 were members of the Reserve. While the Reserve represented not quite 10 percent of the Marine Corps at the end of the war, its growth in approximately 17 months was phenomenal.

Read more: The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Comes to the Fore


It was an unusual morning on the steps of the New York City Public Library that first day of August 1918. The World War was at its height and American patriotism had reached a peak as well. Recruiting posters and posters to encourage people to buy war bonds seemed to be everywhere. Tables set up on street corners to recruit men for the service were common.

Even the steps of the library had been the site of other war-related rallies, but this Thursday in 1918 was unique. The commotion that began at 9 o'clock that morning was beginning to build. A platoon of Marines could be seen above the heads of the crowd -- dressed in field uniforms with traditional high collars, new steel helmets and rifles with fixed bayonets. At the center of the activity was a man in an artist's smock working on a stepladder as he painted his canvas. The stepladder was required because the canvas was larger than the artist or his subject-8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. His model stood on a pedestal a few yards away, where the crowd would have a good view. The model’s jaw was thrust forward in anger and he was frozen in the act of pulling off his suit jacket, ready for a fight.

The throng of spectators thickened as singer Al Jolson arrived and performed a new song titled after the same recruiting slogan that could now be seen on the canvas. Guest speakers and various officials appeared, too, as the day wore on, all to draw attention to the artist at work and the war effort in general. The scene was completed when a motion picture camera set up to capture the day on film. All expertly organized by James Montgomery Flagg to publicize his rendition of "Tell That To The Marines!" one of his most popular wartime recruiting posters.

Read more: Marine Corps Recruiting Posters of the Great War



By Donald R. Morris (Thomason USMC, American Heritage, November 1993, Volume 44, Issue 7)

A Texas Marine who drew beautifully  and wrote as well as he drew became the laureate of the me who checked the last great German offensive. All but forgotten today, his 1926 bestseller remains perhaps the finest account  of Americans in the Great War. 

The Automatic Rifle Men JWThomason Fix Bayonets

"The book is here now: a straight-forward prose account of four battles, with infinite detail of the men and emotions in these battles, reinforced with sketches and impressions drawn upon the field. It is, in the opinion of many of us who ought to know, the finest account of their sons in battle which the American people have received. …” The writer who felt he was qualified to judge a war book was Laurence Stallings, who had been wounded in action in Belleau Wood and whose wildly popular play What Price Glory? was in its second year on Broadway when he composed this tribute to the work of a fellow Marine. “Fix Bayonets! is in the company of Tolstoy and Crane and Bierce in the literature of war. Indeed, I should leave Crane out of it. … The Red Badge of Courage cannot stand the fierce sun of Fix Bayonets!

Its author, Col. John W. Thomason, Jr., U.S.M.C., is all but forgotten now, but from 1925 through the Second World War he produced a stream of stunning stories, novels, and nonfiction, all enlivened with his inimitable sketches, that lasted twenty years. Hardly a month passed without a book of his in print or a story in some magazine; millions read him avidly. And today, nearly seventy years after its publication, his first book, Fix Bayonets!, remains the single finest account of Americans in battle in World War I.


United States Marine Corps

World War 1 Centennial Website

Featured Artifact

 Display photo 2 SHSU 2 29 16

John W. Thomason Collection

Collection of personal artifacts belonging to Colonel John W. Thomason from his service in WWI. As a First Lieutenant in France, Thomason won the Navy Cross for his actions against enemy forces. Thomason's stories and illustrations from the Great War were later published in his very successful book, Fix  Bayonets. The artifacts are part of the John W. Thomason Collection at the Newton Gresham Library,  Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. 

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