Toys for Tots, ‘Fighting Fourth’ and ‘Pappy Boyington’: What to Know About the Marine Corps Reserve

By Mike Case

The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve was created on August 29, 1916. Also known as Marine Forces Reserve, it is composed of 40,000 reservists drawn from diverse civilian backgrounds.

A Marine Corps Reserve recruiting poster from 1952. | Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

Its mission is to augment, reinforce and replenish active duty Marine forces during wartime and national emergencies, as well as provide additional personnel relief to Marine Corps operations during peacetime. As one Marine officer best said during World War II, “When fighting side by side, the labels ‘reserve’ and ‘regular’ melt away.”

Here are 11 facts you’ll want to know about the citizen-warriors of the Marine Corps Reserve:

1. Of the over 589,000 men and women who served in the Marines during WWII, about 70% were reservists.

2. The 4th Marine Division, called “The Fighting Fourth,” was originally created in 1943 for service during WWII.

Activated on August 16, 1943, it was the first division to sail from the U.S. directly into combat. The 4th Marine Division spent the next two years in continuous combat in the Pacific theater, including the battles of Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

Today, the 4th Division is the Reserve division of the Marine Corps and elements of the 4th are stationed throughout the United States.

Photo credit U.S. Marines/Lance Cpl. Ryan Schmid

U.S. Marines with VMM-764, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, conduct external sling loads with a MV-22 Osprey in Kodiak, Alaska on May 12, 2021. Marines with Marine Forces Reserve are providing logistical support for Arctic Care 2021, which is a joint service training mission that provides no-cost care to residents of Kodiak, Alaska.

3. The first official “Toys for Tots” campaign was initiated by reservist Maj. William Hendricks in 1947.

It transformed into a nationwide Marine Corps Reserve public affairs project by 1953.

Photo credit U.S. Marines/Cpl. Jacob Wilson

U.S. Marines with 4th Force Reconnaissance Company, a reserve unit, unload Toys for Tots donation packages on the Island of Hawaii on Dec. 11, 2020.

4. In 1918, over 300 women enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve for service during World War I.

They were nicknamed “Marinettes.” After the war, the women who remained in the inactive reserves received pay of $1.00 per month and medals for victory in WWI and good conduct.

5. During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the 4th Marine Division was the largest military reserve component activated for duty during the conflict.

From 1990-1991, 63% of the Marine Corps Reserves activated in support of the operation.

6. During WWII, more than 19,000 women joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve to “free a Marine to fight.”

Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

A Marine Corps Reserve recruiting poster circa 1944.

Their jobs included working as truck drivers, mechanics, cryptographers and aerial photographers. Col. Ruth Cheney Streeter served as the first Director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.

Marine Sgt. Grace L. Wyman practices aerial photography at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, circa 1944. | Photo credit DOD/U.S. Marine Corps

7. 44 of the 82 WWII Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients were reservists.

20 Marine reservists also would receive the Medal of Honor for actions during the battle for Iwo Jima.

8. Maj. Joe Foss, a reservist, was the top Marine fighter ace during WWII.

He would earn the Medal of Honor and, later in life, would become the first commissioner of the American Football League (the AFL would merge with the NFL in 1969 - it became the AFC one of the two league conferences, the other being the NFC.)

Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, 1943. | Photo credit National Archives and Records Administration

9. You can’t talk about famous Marine Corps Reserve fighter pilots without mentioning Medal of Honor recipient Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.

Boyington was the leader of the Black Sheep fighter squadron VMF-214. His and the unit’s exploits are portrayed in the popular 70s TV show “Black Sheep Squadron.”

10. Nearly all combat correspondents covering WWII in the Pacific were Reserve Marines.

Master Tech. Sgt. James W. Hurlbut was the Marines’ first combat correspondent to see combat in WWII during the battle for Guadalcanal.

USO veteran Rob Riggle entertains the troops on General Martin Dempsey’s fourth and final annual USO holiday tour as the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. | Photo credit USO

11. Comedian and actor Rob Riggle is a retired Marine Corps Reserve officer.

-This story originally appeared on in 2019. It has been updated in 2021.

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