Wendell C. Neville – Major General, United States Marine Corps

Few Marines have seen more action in widely scattered parts of the world than the late Major General Wendell C. Neville, fourteenth Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1929 and 1930. The Virginian, who became a “soldier of the sea” chiefly because no one else in his district desired an appointment to Annapolis back in 1886, was one of the most decorated Marines in the history of the Corps.

During the 38 years he spent as a U. S. Marine, he saw action in Cuba, Mexico, China, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and France. For his valor and leadership in those engagements he earned the Medal of Honor, Brevet Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Cross of the Legion of Honor, five Croix de Guerre with three stars and two palms, five citation and eight campaign and expeditionary awards.

Outlining the military activities of General Neville is similar to reviewing major Marine Corps activities from 1898 through 1918. During that period, he spent 14 years on military assignments on foreign soil, was in the thick of a dozen military campaigns and expeditions, fought in 14 major engagements recorded as battles, and participated in numerous skirmishes recorded in history as minor incidents.

Born May 12, 1870 near Portsmouth, Virginia, young Neville entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1886 after learning that an appointment to the Academy had not been filled in his district. He received his diploma in 1890 and, following a two-year cruise aboard a warship, was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Lieutenant Neville was assigned to the First Marine Battalion, hurriedly organized under Lieutenant Colonel W. R. Huntington for service in Cuba. The battalion staged a daring attack under heavy gunfire at Guantanamo Bay, established a beachhead and routed enemy forces in that area. For outstanding valor and leadership in that action, Lieutenant Neville was awarded the Brevet Medal, highest Marine Corps decoration at that time, and was promoted to the brevet rank of captain.

Promoted to the permanent rank of captain a few months after the war, he was assigned to a battalion of Marines ordered to China to relieve the hard-pressed garrison at Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. He took part in four battles in that area and was again commended for his gallantry.

In the Philippine Islands not long afterwards, he was appointed military governor of Basilan Province. Following that assignment he served in Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, and Hawaii. While in command of Marines landing at Vera Cruz on April 21, 1914, he displayed conspicuous gallantry. In that operation, Lieutenant Colonel Neville was awarded the Medal of Honor for his distinguished conduct.

Prior to his embarkation for France in 1917, Colonel Neville returned to China where he was chosen to command the combined Allied guard at Peking.

On January 1, 1918, he was placed in command of the Fifth Marine Regiment in France, and in May moved his regiment into action at Belleau Wood where Germany’s big drive was decisively halted. In July, General Neville’s command was enlarged to include the Fourth Marine Brigade which he directed during the remaining days of the war and during its occupation service in Germany.

After service with the Army of Occupation in Germany, General Neville and his brigade returned to the United States in July, 1919. Promoted to major general in March, 1920, he served as assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps and later became Commanding General, Department of the Pacific with headquarters in San Francisco.
Prior to becoming Commandant on March 5, 1929, he was in command of the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia.

General Neville’s sudden death on July 8, 1930, while in office as Major General Commandant, closed one of the most brilliant military careers of his day—a career of faithful service that extended through many important chapters of Marine Corps history; Guantanamo Bay, the Siege of Peking, Tientsin, the Philippine Insurrection, Panama, Vera Cruz, Belleau Wood, Soissons, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, the Rhine and Coblenz.
(Revised November, 1949)

Biography courtesy of the United States Marine Corps




Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps. Born: 12 May 1870, Portsmouth, Virginia. Appointed from: Virginia. G.O. No.: 177, 4 December 1915. Other Navy award: Distinguished Service Medal.


For distinguished conduct in battle engagements of Vera Cruz 21 and 22 April 1914. In command of the 2d Regiment Marines, Lt. Col. Neville was in both days’ fighting and almost continually under fire from soon after landing, about noon on the 21st, until we were in possession of the city, about noon of the 22d. His duties required him to be at points of great danger in directing his officers and men, and he exhibited conspicuous courage, coolness, and skill in his conduct of the fighting. Upon his courage and skill depended, in great measure, success or failure. His responsibilities were great and he met them in a manner worthy of commendation.



Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment