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First Name: Graves

Last Name: Erskine

Birthplace: Columbia, LA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Middle Name: Blanchard

Date of Birth: 28 June 1897

Date of Death: 21 May 1973

Rank: General

Years Served: 1912 - 1916 (National Guard), 1917 - 1953 (USMC)
Graves Blanchard Erskine

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Graves Blanchard Erskine
General, U.S. Marine Corps
(Tombstone General)

Graves Blanchard Erskine was born on 28 June 1897 in Columbia, LA, where he graduated from high school at age 15 as class valedictorian. He entered Louisiana State University in the fall of 1912; he also joined the Louisiana National Guard. In 1916, he saw duty on the Mexican border. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve on 21 May 1917; and graduated from LSU in June 1917. Upon graduation he reported for active duty in the Marine Corps as a Second Lieutenant on 5 July 1917.

Marine Corps Career

World War I

Erskine sailed for France in January 1918 and, as a Platoon Leader in the 6th Marine Regiment, participated in the Aisne-Marne Defensive (Battle of Chateau-Thierry), where he was wounded in action. He also fought at Belleau Wood; Bouresches; and Soissons. In the St. Mihiel Offensive, he was so seriously wounded, that he was evacuated to the U.S. in October 1918 for hospitalization. He spent a year in the hospital undergoing nine surgeries.

For bravery in action, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal; was cited by the Commander-in-Chief, AEF, and in General Orders of the War Department; and entitled to wear the French Fourragère as a member of the 6th Marine Regiment.

The Inter-War Period

Following recruiting duty in Kansas City, MO, he was assigned foreign shore duty with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in Haiti; sea duty aboard the USS Olympia; and again foreign shore duty, with the 2nd Marine Brigade in Santo Domingo. In September 1924, he became Depot Quartermaster, Marine Barracks, Quantico, VA. He later completed instruction at the U.S. Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA, and was assigned to the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico as an instructor.

In March 1928, he was assigned two years' duty in Nicaragua, serving briefly with the 2nd Marine Brigade, and later with the Nicaragua National Guard Detachment. During this period, he organized the Presidential Guard, served as aide and personal bodyguard to President José María Moncada Tapia, and commanded a battalion of the Guardia Nacionale in jungle operations against organized bandits in northern Nicaragua.

Upon his return to the U.S., he was an instructor at the Basic School, Marine Barracks, Philadelphia Navy Yard; completed the Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, KS; and served as an instructor again at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico. From January 1935 until May 1937, he was stationed in China, serving as a member of the Marine Detachment at the American Embassy in Peiping. In June 1937, he began a three-year assignment as a Section Chief at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, then served as Executive Officer of the 5th Marine Regiment at Quantico and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

World War II

When World War II broke out, he was serving as Chief of Staff, Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet (later redesignated Amphibious Corps, Atlantic Fleet). In September 1942, he joined the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, in San Diego, CA, as Chief of Staff, and performed duty in Alaska in July and August 1943 during the planning and training phase of the assault on Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians. Immediately after this, he assumed duty as Chief of Staff of the 5th Amphibious Corps and embarked for the Pacific area.

Overseas, he was promoted to Brigadier General in November 1943 (with rank from September 1942), and was assigned additional duty as Deputy Commander, 5th Amphibious Corps. For exceptionally meritorious service during the assault and capture of Kwajalein, Saipan, and Tinian, he received two awards of the Legion of Merit, both with combat "V." He also performed additional duties during the Marianas campaign as Chief of Staff of East Marine Force, Pacific.

Following the Marianas operation, he was promoted to Major General in September 1944, and the following month assumed command of the 3rd Marine Division. He led the 3rd Division in the battle for Iwo Jima where members of the division were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for heroism, and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Post-War Years

Immediately after the war, as Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Division (then stationed on Guam), he organized vocational schools on Guam to aid Marines under his command in postwar trades and skills, prior to their return to civilian life.

In October 1945, Major General Erskine was ordered to Washington and, as a result of a special Congressional Act, was appointed Administrator of the Retraining and Reemployment Administration (RRA). In June 1947, upon his request to return to duty with the Marine Corps, he assumed Command of the Marine Barracks, Marine Training and Replacement Command, Camp Pendleton, CA. The following month, with the return of the 1st Marine Division from China to Camp Pendleton, he became Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division, as well as Commanding General of Camp Pendleton. In May 1949, he was assigned additional duty as Deputy Commander of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.

During this period, the Marine air units at El Toro were molded together with the 1st Marine Division troops at Camp Pendleton, and it was this combination that embarked for Korea when hostilities erupted in that area.

In June 1950, the Secretary of Defense appointed Major General Erskine as Chief of Military Group, Joint State-Defense Mutual Defense Assistance Program Survey Mission to Southeast Asia. In carrying out his assigned duties with the Mission, he visited the Philippines, French Indochina, Malaya, Thailand and Indonesia. Upon completing this assignment, General Erskine received orders in December 1950 directing him to assume duties as Commanding General of the Department of the Pacific, San Francisco, CA. He also performed additional duties as Member of the Advisory Group, Western Sea Frontier; and Commanding General, Marine Corps Emergency Forces, Western Sea Frontier.

In July 1951, as a Lieutenant General, he became Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic.

Upon his retirement from active duty in the Marine Corps on 1 July 1953, Lieutenant General Erskine was advanced to four-star rank by reason of having been specially commended for heroism in combat. He thus became the seventh Marine to become a "Tombstone General."

* The Act of Congress of 4 March 1925, allowed officers in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to be promoted one grade upon retirement if they had been specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat. Combat citation promotions were colloquially known as "tombstone promotions" because they conferred the prestige of the higher rank, but not the additional retirement pay, so their only practical benefit was to allow recipients to engrave a loftier title on their business cards and tombstones. The Act of Congress of 23 February 1942, enabled tombstone promotions to three- and four-star grades. Tombstone promotions were subsequently restricted to citations issued before 1 January 1947, and finally eliminated altogether effective 1 November 1959.

Any general who actually served in a grade while on active duty receives precedence on the retirement list over any tombstone general holding the same retired grade. "Tombstone generals" rank among each other according to the dates of their highest active duty grade.

Department of Defense

Erskine was authorized to retire from active service in the Marine Corps by a Special Act of the U.S. Congress, in June 1953, for the purpose of accepting a position as Assistant to the Secretary of Defense as Director of Special Operations of the U.S. Department of Defense. Erskine served in this post for over eight years, until 31 October 1961.

Medals and Awards

Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star Medal
Legion of Merit w/ Valor Device & 1 Award Star
Purple Heart w/ 1 Oak Leaf Cluster
Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 1 Service Star
Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal w/ 1 Service Star
World War I Victory Medal w/ Aisne, St. Mihiel, & Defensive Sector Clasps
Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1933)
American Defense Service Medal w/ Base Clasp
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 4 Service Stars
World War II Victory Medal
Nicaraguan Medal of Merit
Knight Grand Cross, Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant

French Fourragère


Admiral Richard Byrd, during his last mission to Antarctica, named Erskine Bay in honor of General Erskine.

Erskine was named an Honorary Chieftain in the Cherokee Indian Tribe

Erskine was named a Kentucky Colonel.

Death and Burial

General Graves Blanchard Erskine died on 21 May 1973, at Bethesda, MD. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 387   Created by: MHOH




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