By the Act of 21 March 1945, Congress permitted the President to appoint the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the grade of General. Alexander A. Vandegrift, then Commandant, was promoted from lieutenant general to general on 4 April 1945, to rank from 21 March of that year. He thus became the first Marine to serve in the grade of general.  The Office of the Commandant was permanently fixed at the grade of four-star general under authority of the Act of 7 August 1947.  All Commandants since that date have been entitled by law to serve in the grade of general and, in accordance with the provisions of 10 USC 5201, to retire at that grade.

The first Marine to hold the grade of four-star general was Thomas Holcomb, the 17th Commandant. General Holcomb was promoted from lieutenant general to general upon retirement, 1 January 1944, by reason of combat citation, as provided by the Act of 23 February 1942.  This provision was repealed, however, on 11 August 1959, effective 1 November 1959.  The repeal meant that the grade of four-star general would be limited to the Commandant, incumbent or retired, but it would not affect those Marines who already had received the honor.

Between 1948 and the date of its repeal, 16 Marines serving in the grade of lieutenant general were promoted to general upon retirement, under the provision of the Act of 23 February 1942. They were:

William O. Brice                  

Alfred H. Noble             

Holland M. Smith

Graves B. Erskine

Edwin A. Pollock

Oliver P. Smith

Franklin A. Hart

Ray A. Robinson

Gerald C. Thomas

Robert E. Hogaboom

Christian F. Schilt

Allen H. Turnage

Leroy P. Hunt

Harry Schmidt

Merrill B. Twining

​Vernon E. Megee

NOTE: General Roy S. Geiger was posthumously promoted from lieutenant general to general, by a special Act of Congress, effective from the date of his death, 23 January 1947.

In April 1969, the Senate passed and sent to the White House a bill to make the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps a four-star general when the active duty strength of the Marine Corps exceeds 200,000. On 5 May 1969, President Nixon signed the bill, and Lieutenant General Lewis W. Walt was promoted to that rank, 2 June 1969, thus becoming the first Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps to attain four-star rank. Legislation allowing the Assistant Commandant to wear the four-star insignia regardless of the strength of the Marine Corps was approved by President Ford on 4 March 1976. The legislation is contained in Public Law 94-225. Subsequent to General Walt, the Assistant Commandants of the Marine Corps have served at the rank of four-star general.

On 22 November 1985, Lieutenant General George B. Crist was promoted to four-star rank and on 27 November assumed duties as Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. His appointment marked the first time a Marine headed a unified command and the first time the Corps had three four-star generals on active duty at the same time. Since 1985, it is no longer uncommon for the Corps to have three or more four star-star generals on active duty at the same time.


Reference Branch
USMC History Division
Aug 2017