Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: Major George Hamilton, USMC

Contributed by Bob Knight 

Major George W. Hamilton, USMC
George Hamilton was born on 5 July 1892. He grew up in Washington DC and attended Central High School. After high school he attended Georgetown University, where he participated in football and track and field. After deciding to leave Georgetown in his first semester George decided to try working in the banking business. And after realizing banking was not for him he studied for and then passed the exam and received an Officers Commission in the Marine Corp. He reported for duty 29 November 1913 to the Marine barracks in Norfolk, VA. Marksmanship competitions were quite popular at that time, and George proved to be an excellent marksman. And in the Marines that was saying a lot! His exceptional athleticism and marksmanship would serve him well once WWI AEF action started in France. But first before seeing action in France George spent time at sea as an officer of shipboard Marines.  Once America entered the war  George was transferred with his detachment from ship duty to the Marine Corp Barracks in Quantico VA. And from there transferred to the AEF.

Major George Hamilton's WWI experience is like no other officer who served in WWI. He was never wounded by gas, bullet, or high explosive shell. His participation in 2nd Division/4th Marine Brigade/5th Marine Regiment  battles was comprehensive. Major Hamilton saw action as a company commander on Hill 142 near Belleau Wood. He was involved and led his troops in the Second Battle of the Marne.  He was the battalion commander at Blanc Mont who saved the 5th Marine Regiment  from disaster when they were surrounded in what is famously known as "The Box." And he is famously depicted in the painting "The Last Night of War" by Frederick Yohn showing him leading two battalions in the crossing of the Meuse river on 10 November 1918. He was the last American officer on 11 November 1918 to hear that the war was over. He was in the thick of action from the beginning of America's involvement in WWI to the very end. Major Hamilton received the Distinguished Service Cross and was twice decorated by the French. No Marines officers were awarded the Medal of Honor in WWI for service as an officer. If there was any man worthy of the Medal of Honor, George Hamilton's name would have been very high on the list. It was on the list because Marine brigade commander Bg. Gen. Wendell Neville had recommended Major Hamilton for the MOH but it was thought that the Army was still simmering about the credit the Marines received after Belleau Wood and the award was rejected. 

Major George Hamilton resigned from the Corps with feelings of disillusionment about what he considered to be a unfair promotion system. However he could not stay out long and quickly applied for reinstatement, which was granted with no loss of seniority. Once back in the Corps, George entered flight training. It was quite common to do maneuvers on former Civil War battlefields reenacting the Civil War. Captain Hamilton (his permanent rank after WWI) was scouting for the Marines participating in these maneuvers over the Gettysburg battlefield on 2 July 1922 when his plane plunged to the ground from 400 feet as he was preparing to land near the site of Pickett's charge. He was killed instantly. George Wallis Hamilton is buried in Arlington Cemetery in section SW, Site 4585.

More information on George W. Hamilton can be found in Mark Mortensen's biography titled George W. Hamilton, USMC. Mark's  grandfather, Orv Mortensen, served under Hamilton in WWI as a private and sharpshooter.


  1. Eight US Marines received the Medal of Honor for actions during WW1. Five of these received both the Army and the Navy award.

  2. No Marine officers received the MOH for service while an officer.

  3. Thanks Bob Knight.

    William Anderson is correct. During WWI the Marines in the 4th Brigade were released from the navy and transferred to the army. All medals and field promotions were controlled by Gen. Pershing and his staff. Of the AEF combat Marines 6 received the MoH, but no officer. Captain Hamilton USMC was twice recommended but denied the MoH for bravery at Belleau Wood as the 49th Co. commander. Marine aviators remained under the navy and Secretary Joseph Daniels with 2 receiving the MoH including 2nd lt. Ralph Talbot.

    Additionally, Major Hamilton USMC had the qualifications to be recommended for the MoH first at Blanc Mont in “The Box” for bravery commanding 1/5 similar to army Major Charles Whittlesey in “The Pocket” with the Lost Battalion and second for bravery on the last night of the war in command of 2 Marine battalions and 1 from the army 89th Division.