A Tale of Two Corps
Most people don't know this but there are two United States Marine Corps, one is as I just stated it and the other is the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Members of the first call themselves “regulars", those of the second are called “reservists". If you enlist in the Marine Corps or enter it through the college or Academy programs you are a "regular enlisted" or a "regular officer", whichever the case may be, and you remain so until your term of enlistment expires or you retire – or, in some cases, something worse.
You can also enlist in the Marine Corps reserves by being drafted during the times the draft existed or by joining one of the many "organized" reserve units around the country. This may vary between enlisted and officers and is very much affected by the times. In wartime the Corps is increased in size substantially by the addition of its reserves.
The “regulars" consider themselves, and are in fact, full-time Marines. The "reserves" are looked upon by the "regulars” as part–time Marines and rightfully so because they are gainfully employed elsewhere supporting a family through running a business, operating a farm, etc. A reservist can be an "active reservist" or a "volunteer reservist". As the former he or she belongs to an organized unit. The latter need not do so but can, on a regular basis, go on "active duty for training" sessions and do other work, possibly by correspondence, in order to maintain his or her reserve status.
By the nature of things, it can be said that the regular Marine gets more training on a regular basis then does the reserve Marine.
Another thing that separates the two Corps is pomp and ceremony. Regulars that are assigned to certain duties may have to own and maintain an entire panoply of uniforms. Musicians have Red Dress uniforms in addition to their regular day-to-day ones. An officer stationed at an embassy may own Dress Blues, Dress Whites, two versions of Mess Dress uniforms and a cape. His or her dress blues alone cost over a $ 1,000 excluding some necessary additions like medals and ribbons. Their swords cost at least $ 750. I should mention that, with some exception in limited use by the Army, Marine officers and NCOs are the only U.S. military using swords for some occasions. And then there are all the rules and procedures that go with this.
There is none of that in the reserves. An organized reserve unit may on occasion take part in a local parade but they will be in their greens or khakis. Am I complaining about that? Not really – O.K., a little, because the pomp and ceremony is “fun”! We reservists can’t be there for the fun part but we sure are there when it’s required to be shot at – a lot.
So what does all of this have to do with anything?
Well, on occasion, some regular Marines, enlisted and officers, consider the reserve Marines, enlisted and officers, as not being as effective as they themselves are. Fortunately it does not happen often but in my 23 years in the Corps’ reserves I have experienced it a number of times. The Corps itself at the highest levels and a great majority of the remainder do not feel that way – especially those that have been in combat. But, it hurts when it does.
During peace time the reserves serve by trying very hard to train and keep up to date. At the start of the Korean War the Corps was badly understaffed and the reserves had to be called upon. Organized units were sent directly to Korea, usually split up, and fed into the field organizations. Most found themselves to be combat infantryman. The majority of the Marines in the battalion I served with consisted of reservists some of whom had very limited training. All of our officers except one were reservists. The records show they did very well.
Do I blame the Marine Corps for this coming about? No, nor do I want this to be considered a critical opinion because they really could not do otherwise and do what was being asked of them.
Sometime after I returned home from Korea I received an interesting letter from Brigadier General R. McC. Pate, Director, Marine Corps Reserve, stationed at Headquarters United States Marine Corps. It was dated 10 June 1952 and was two pages long. It’s basic purpose was to thank me for my recent tour of duty, which I very much appreciated but it also passed on some information that was a bit of a surprise. Following is an excerpt that was of particular interest:
“A great number of Reservists, officer and enlisted, never fully understood why they were called into service, and many others did not realize why the call-up had to be made with such speed. The decision to send Marines to Korea was made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the fighting began. The decision to increase the number of Marines from a Brigade to a full Division, supported by an Air Wing, was also made by the Joint Chiefs based on the turn of events in Korea. The situation in Korea during this period was extremely desperate.”
He went on to tell me that, following World War II, the Marine Corps was required to operate at very low regular officer strength and, in fact, the entire combined Fleet Marine Force , including air and ground units totaled only 27,000. He then noted that the first Marine components consisting of one under-strength Marine brigade and air group landing in Korea in mid-1950 was composed of all regular personnel and one year later the full strength First Marine Division and its supporting Air Group was leading the fight in Korea and, forty-seven percent of its combined strength consisted of officer and enlisted Reserves.
When I retired from the service in 1971 I found that my certificate of retirement announced I had retired from the Marine Corps with no mention of the fact that I had been a reservist. I thank them for considering that there was no difference. By dint of that certificate I can add after my name and rank the designation U.S.M.C. (ret.) But instead I choose to use U.S.M.C.R. (ret.)