WALTER S. MCILHENNY, USMC
Brigadier General Walter Stauffer "Tabasco Mac" McIlhenny was born 22 October 1910 in Washington, D.C. He received his education at Force School and Central High School in Washington, D.C., and Lane High School in Charlottesville, Virginia. He later attended the University of Virginia, also in Charlottesville. He served two years with the Washington High School Cadets, and four years in the Virginia National Guard, attaining the rank of platoon sergeant.
Honorably discharged from the National Guard on 15 June 1935, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and completed the Platoon Leaders' Class that summer. He was commissioned a Marine Reserve second lieutenant, 3 December 1936, with a rank date of 6 November. During subsequent summer assignments to active duty, he attended the National Rifle Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, as an instructor and shooting member of the Marine Corps Reserve Rifle Team. He was a member of the 1937 team that won the Hilton Trophy and the A.E.F. Roumanian Trophy; coach of the 1938 team that won the Roumanian Trophy; captain of the 1939 team that won the Rattlesnake Trophy; and winner of the Bronze medal in the National Individual Rifle Match, which entitled him to the Distinguished Marksman Badge.
Prior to reporting for extended active duty in World War II, he was an engineer with the Continental Oil Company until 1940, when he joined the family firm, the McIlhenny Company of Louisiana, makers of Tabasco Sauce.
Called to active duty as a first lieutenant following the outbreak of World War II, General McIlhenny served continuously until December 1945. After completing The Basic School for Marine Corps Officers at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, he was assigned to the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, at New River (later Camp Lejeune), North Carolina, and served with that unit throughout the entire war. In May 1942, he embarked with the 5th Marines for Guadalcanal, where the 1st Marine Division made its initial landing on 7 August 1942 under heavy enemy fire.
For heroism as Executive Officer and later Commanding Officer of Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, during the landing on Guadalcanal and its subsequent capture and defense, he received both the Navy Cross and the Silver Star Medal. He also received two Purple Hearts for wounds received in this campaign, along with the Presidential Unit Citation that was awarded to the 1st Marine Division (Reinforced) for heroism on Guadalcanal.
In December 1943, he again participated in combat against the enemy, this time at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, as the 1st Battalion's Plans and Training Officer. He served subsequently as Regimental Intelligence Officer, and 3d Battalion Commander. In September 1944, during the landing on Peleliu, Palau Islands, he served as Regimental Plans and Training Officer. Again, he received the Presidential Unit Citation as a member of the 1st Marine Division (Reinforced). The unit was awarded the honor for heroic action in the assault and seizure of Peleliu.
On his return to the United States in December 1944, then Major McIlhenny was assigned to Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, where he completed the Instructor's Orientation Course and served as an instructor in the Rifle Units Section. He also completed the Artillery School at Fort Benning, Georgia, during this assignment.
Relieved from active duty 26 December 1945, Major McIlhenny continued his affiliation with the Ready Reserve in his home state of Louisiana. He organized and trained Volunteer Training Unit 8-25 in Lafayette, Louisiana, and commanded that unit until his retirement from the Reserve. On 1 November 1959, he was placed on the retired list of Marine Reserve officers and was advanced to brigadier general by reason of having been specially commended for heroism in combat.
In addition to his Marine Corps service, General McIlhenny was one of the founders of the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas, a private military college preparatory boarding school for boys in grades 8 through 12 that remains the only school in the world to offer military leadership based on the traditions of the United States Marine Corps. Under his guidance, the Marine Military Academy has grown steadily since 1965. He supported the Academy from its very inception and was one of the original seven co-guarantors of the loan to establish the school. Many major projects were undertaken through his leadership and he is listed as a major contributor to the Academy. For many years, he served as the President of the Board of Trustees of the Academy and was the President Emeritus of the school at the time of his death.
However, Brigadier General McIlhenny was perhaps best known as the president of the McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce Company, located in New Inberia, Louisiana. His company's creation of two recipe books under his direction, The Charlie Ration Cookbook and The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet, and donation of thousands of bottles of the hot pepper sauce to Marines serving in Vietnam have helped make Tabasco a standard fair for those serving in the field even today.
Brigadier General McIlhenny passed away 22 June 1985 after a brief illness. He had made his home on Avery Island, Louisiana, and was laid to rest there in Grove Cemetery after a simple military service.