"During World War II, the Marine Corps expanded from approximately 15,000 Regular Duty personnel to more than 485,000 Marines by 1945, with Reserve Marines constituting the bulk of personnel strength. Of the 589,852 Marines to serve during World War II, approximately 70 percent were Reserves. One general officer described the Reserve as “… a shot in the arm when war came.”
During the Pacific campaigns, Reserve Marines participated in some of the most bitterly fought battles of the war, including Solomon, Marshall, Marianna, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa Islands. Reserve Marines performed valiantly throughout the war, as 44 of the 82 Marine Medal of Honor recipients were Reservists. Twenty Reserve Marines received the Medal of Honor for actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima alone.
Many Reserve aviators also distinguished themselves, such as Robert Galer, Joe Foss, and Robert Hanson. Perhaps the most famous Reserve Marine aviator of the war was Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the Marine Corps’ Ace of Aces. The Medal of Honor recipient and leader of the Black Sheep squadron, VMF-214, shot down 26 enemy planes over the course of the war.
During this time, more than 19,000 women also joined the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve to “Free a Marine to Fight.” These pioneering women filled more than 200 occupations, such as truck drivers, electricians, mechanics, cryptographers, painters, parachute riggers, paymasters, and aerial photographers. Col. Ruth Cheney Streeter served as the first Director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She orchestrated the wartime expansion of the Women’s Reserve program and pushed for the continuance of the Women’s Reserve after the war.
Further crucial manpower support came from the 19,168 African-American men who joined the Marines during the war. Trained at Montford Point, near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, they served as enlisted men since 1942 and as officers since 1945. Of these Marines, 75 percent served overseas. Although assigned to service support units, approximately 8,000 African-American Marines performed their duties under fire at places like Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. Some of the Montford Point Marines would continue to serve honorably in the Reserve Force through the Korean War and beyond.
Just as in the First World War, Reserve Marines seamlessly integrated into the Active Component. As one official history noted, during World War II “…the reservist was so indistinguishable from the Regular that to attempt a distinction is irrelevant.” Another officer referred to the relationship between the Reserve and Active Components as “our greatest blessing, our greatest strength…when fighting side by side, the labels Reserve and Regular melt away.”