- “Kentuckians All”: The Journey of Three Kentucky U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Companies in War and Peace, 1948–1968
During the Cold War era, the Marine Corps Reserve played an important role in the readiness of the active-duty Marine Corps to meet any national emergency. In fact, the successful launching and completion of General Douglas MacArthur’s iconic Inchon landing on September 15, 1950, can be attributed to the rapid mobilization and deployment of Marine reservists sent to augment and fill the ranks of a Marine Corps reduced to about eighty-eight thousand officers and enlisted men in the months following World War II. Carrying that precedent into the 1950s and 1960s, three Kentucky-based Marine Reserve companies continued to play a critical role in the overall manpower policies of the Headquarters Marine Corps to increase the strength of active-duty Marines in the event of war. These units included the Forty-seventh Rifle Company in Louisville, [End Page 135] the Sixty-first Rifle Company in Lexington, and the Sixtieth Special Rifle Company in Owensboro. Originating in the Headquarters Marine Corps postwar reorganization of the Marine Corps Reserve, these Kentuckians represented a microcosm of the reliance of the Marine Corps on its reservists, in particular on the maintenance of high standards of military professionalism and the achievement of a combat-ready force able to reinforce active-component units, even in the midst of hostilities.
This study will illustrate not only the evolution of these three rifle companies but also their preparation and training for general conventional war with the Soviet Union and the numerous “small wars” of the 1960s. Trained along the same lines as the Regular Marine Corps, the Kentucky companies ranked, according to accounts published in official Marine Corps reports and contemporary newspapers, among the best-trained units for the time in the arts of amphibious and vertical-assault warfare in the entire U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Marine Corps Reserve Policy, 1945–50
Before undertaking any discussion of the Kentucky companies, an examination of the overall policies of the Marine Corps concerning postwar organization of its Reserve forces is necessary. The Reserve had played a key role in the build-up and expansion of the Marine Corps during World War II. About six hundred thousand men and women served in the Marine Corps during the war, and two-thirds of them came from reserve categories like retirees, wartime volunteers and draftees, college students, or specialists. Indeed, as Lieutenant General Alpha L. Bowser, commanding general, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic from July 1, 1965, to June 30, 1967, recalled about his World War II commands: “My entire operation in those days ran on Reserve officers, not Regulars. In World War II, I ended up commanding a battalion of 105-mm howitzers with officer strength of thirty-five to forty men. Of this entire group, during a fifteen-month period only my executive officer, one warrant officer, and myself, were Regular officers.”1 Brigadier General Lewis C. Hudson, a veteran Marine officer [End Page 136] who served in numerous Pacific battles during World War II, similarly stated:
Without the Reserves, we simply would not have had the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, FMF.2 Thirty-six of the thirty-eight officers of this battalion were Reserves and upon them fell the burdens of combat duties. As the war progressed, increasingly large numbers of the combat NCOs were Reserves. These officers and men were leaders—willing, confident; and as soon as they gained a little experience, were more than a match for any opposition we encountered in combat on Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. . . . Speaking from the level of the Marine infantry battalion, it was largely a war of Reserves during the latter period of World War II.3
Brigadier General Joseph L. Stewart, another veteran officer who served in such storied campaigns as Saipan and Iwo Jima in the Pacific as well as the Pusan Perimeter and the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, noted that by the time Marines entered a battle, “the Regular was a rare creature and the Reserve became the Marine that you saw everywhere you went...