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

By Mike Case

A Marine Corps Reserve recruiting poster from 1952. | Photo credit NARA/U.S. Marine Corps photo

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.

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:

Photo credit U.S. Marine Corps photo

U.S. Marines in Ventspils, Latvia conduct beach-assault training operation during Exercise Saber Strike 17 on June 6, 2017.

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 would be 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. Navy Photo

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Sgt. John Catalinie gives out toys to a child during the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program at Naval Air Station (NAS) New Orleans in 2006.

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.

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.

Photo credit NARA/U.S. Marine Corps photo

A Marine Corps Reserve recruiting poster circa 1944.

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

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.

Photo credit DoD/U.S. Marine Corps photo

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 photo

Women’s Marine Reserves recruit Mary C. Harris learns first hand about a carbine, circa 1943. Female Marines were the only military women to receive combat training during boot camp.

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 NARA

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 Photo

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 2020.

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