An Institute that began with a dream...
They were called "schoolboys," "sissies," and worse. Long lines of "real Marines" jeered them each day as they made their way toward an obscure corner of the Marine Barracks in Quantico, Virginia.
Some were learning mechanics, others were learning typing and shorthand, and others were learning to just read and write. In 1919, they were the first to receive "that damned education."
It began as a dream for Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy in 1912. His dream was that every sailor would have an opportunity to learn a vocation and gain an education while in the Navy. The Navy would thus become a huge university.
But Daniels couldn't make his dream come true. There was too much resistance in Congress and too much negative publicity. The popular theory of that era was that sailors were supposed to be uneducated. Education would ruin their discipline and ability to fight, the politicians said. Besides, it was a waste of money; sailors did not need to be educated to sail ships. So Daniels gave up his dream... Sailors just could not be educated!
In October 1919, Major General John A. Lejeune, the hero of World War I, returned to the Marine Barracks in Quantico, Virginia (the same barracks that Lejeune had commanded before the war), and was shocked to find extremely low morale in his officers and men. A year after the armistice had been signed, the normal peacetime letdown and boredom of routine had set in for the men assigned to Quantico. Something had to be done.
One month after Lejeune assumed command of Quantico, a post order, issued on November 12, 1919, established three schools: Automobile Mechanics, Music, and Typewriting and Shorthand. The idea (the "Quantico Idea" as it was soon to be know in newspapers around the country and in testimony before Congress) was simple: Military training and normal post duties would be accomplished in the morning and vocational training would be available in the afternoon.
The vocational training would be voluntary and those not involved in it would perform the minimum duties to keep the post open--guard duty, etc. The evening would be devoted to study and entertainment. Officers would teach the classes. Quantico would become a university.
The "Old Corps"--represented by old salts and young Marines alike--couldn't believe the sissified nonsense going on! Marines going to school? What were Major General Lejeune (the new commanding general) and Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler (the new chief of staff) thinking? Marines learning to read? Who needed to read to fight? What did typewriting have to do with drill? What was the Corps coming to? This was pure nonsense and had to stop right away before the Corps became soft and lost its will to fight! The "Old Corps" had to square away the "schoolboys" fast and make them throw away their textbooks and remind them of how to be "real Marines." The "Old Corps" had to put an end to "that damned education."
The first class, Gas Engine Design and Operations, had more than 100 students when it began on December 8, 1919. Of those, 40 were officers. The fight between the "Old Corps" and the "schoolboys" was about to begin in earnest.
On December 20, 1919, Lieutenant Colonel William C. "Bo" Harllee checked aboard Quantico and immediately became the Assistant Chief of Staff in Charge of Vocational Training. Lieutenant Colonel Harllee had totally redesigned Marine Corps marksmanship in 1909 and had brought the Marine Corps from among the world's worst marksmen to the world's best marksmen. He also designed the first rifle scorebook (known as the Harllee System) in 1919.
After attending Oak Ridge Institute in North Carolina, South Carolina Military Academy and the University of North Carolina, Harllee taught school in Florida for several years before entering the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). He was discharged 2 years later for "deficiencies in discipline."
top of the page
He then enlisted in the Army and was sent to the Philippines to help fight Aguinaldo's guerrillas, where he was promoted to corporal and received a letter for his conspicuous bravery. Less than 2 months after his Philippine campaign, Harllee was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
When he reported aboard at Quantico, Lieutenant Colonel Harllee immediately began the task of making Marines the world's best educators. As one Marine would write home, "The colonel was notorious throughout the Corps as a schoolmaster."
On January 5, 1920, the Vocational Training Schools at Quantico officially opened. Among the new schools were: Typewriting, Stenography and Clerical Work, Equitation, Forestry, Concrete, Carpentry, Electrical Mechanics, Band Music and Playing, Blacksmithing, Painting, Plumbing, Cooking and Baking, and Drafting. But in mid-January, nature accomplished what the "Old Corps" Marines could not: a flu epidemic in Quantico closed the vocational schools.
Lieutenant Colonel Harllee was not to be daunted. On February 2, 1920, the schools reopened with several new courses added. This date is now recognized as the founding date of the institution.
That same week, Lieutenant Colonel Harllee arrived at the offices of the International Correspondence Schools (ICS) in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After a close examination of their study materials, the Colonel told ICS that he would like to use all of their course materials since they were ideally suited to the Quantico plan.
With no money and no authorization, Lieutenant Colonel Harllee ordered $4,000 worth of textbooks, lesson leaflets, and study guides. On February 6, the Vocational Training Schools introduced the International Correspondence Schools materials to all courses. A fixed 10% of all exams were sent to Scranton for grading and the Marine instructors graded all the rest. Students received a certificate from the International Correspondence Schools and the Marine Corps. Later, students received a certificate from the International Correspondence Schools, countersigned by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
In response to a request for information on the new schools, General Butler wrote the Secretary of the Navy a long letter detailing the idea for the new schools. The Secretary of the Navy was so impressed with the plan for the new schools that he authorized a press release announcing the plan. This press release was the first public use of the new name for the schools -- the Marine Corps Institute.
Of course, the Marine Corps Institute (the "Quantico Idea") was soon to have an impact on recruiting. In March, it was announced that during the entire month of April, any man who desired could enlist in the Marine Corps for duty at Quantico where he could take Marine Corps Institute courses. Already, active duty Marines all over the world were requesting transfer to Quantico to take the new courses.
On May 31, 1920, the threat of an outbreak of war with Mexico caused Quantico Marines to be dispatched to Mexican waters aboard the USS HENDERSON. Many of the Marines were enrolled in courses and requested permission to carry on their studies aboard ship. Seizing an opportunity to experiment, Lieutenant Colonel Harllee sent a representative with locker boxes of Marine Corps Institute materials aboard the HENDERSON. The representative issued textbooks, collected exams (for mailing to Quantico for grading), and accepted enrollments. Within 3 weeks, exams started pouring in, and with them came numerous new enrollments from the rest of the detachment who decided to attempt "that damned education."
On June 30, 1920, Major General Lejeune became the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps. In July, Lieutenant Colonel Harllee was transferred to Headquarters Marine Corps to become the Officer in Charge of Vocational Education. As one of his first acts as Commandant, Major General Lejeune authorized Lieutenant Colonel Harllee to extend the scope of the Marine Corps Institute to cover the entire Marine Corps. Any Marine in the world now had the opportunity to take correspondence courses and gain "that damned education."
Back in the Old Corps, at a time when the average Leatherneck stood 5'8" and weighed scarcely 148 pounds, young Bo Harllee, a square-jawed, hard-nosed, independent thinker from rural Florida, was already larger than life -- a strapping 6'2", 197 pounds.
He came by his commission the hard way, after being discharged from the Citadel for excessive demerits, and later tossed out of West Point (where he stood second in his class, but was deemed "too strong, too colorful, too willful, too independent a character") for "deficiencies in discipline."
He distinguished himself in action during the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 as a 22 'year old' corporal with the 33rd U.S. Volunteer Infantry. And on February 2, 1900, he finished first among all applicants in the competitive examinations for commissioning in the United States Marine Corps. He was commissioned a year ahead of his less colorful classmates at West Point.
As a Marine, Bo Harllee was always surrounded by controversy. He was very nearly court-martialed a number of times -- especially when, in 1917, on the eve of our reluctant entry into World War I, he testified before Congress: "... The biggest challenge, the most serious problem if war should come, will be working off the old dead wood which has risen to the top by the passage of time." (Politically correct he was not.) He retired a colonel in 1935 but he was advanced to brigadier general (a distinction awarded for his valorous service) in 1942. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetary by an escort of 8th & I Marines, in November 1944. He is buried next to our 13th Commandant, Major General John A. Lejeune.
So, who was Bo Harllee? Well, he was "The Father of Rifle Practice," regarded in his own time as our nation's preeminent authority on small arms marksmanship training; the first Marine officer to qualify Expert with the service rifle. He was our first Public Affairs Officer, opening the Marine Corps' very first "publicity office," in Chicago, Illinois, where he revolutionized our recruiting service (and was frequently under investigation by Headquarters Marine Corps). He was "first to fight" -- a superb combat leader as a Marine who distinguished himself in action in the Philippines, in China during the Boxer Rebellion, at Vera Cruz, and in Cuba, Haiti, and in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
So when John A. Lejeune needed someone to ensure the success and survival of his radical invention, the Marine Corps Institute, he knew precisely who to turn to: Lieutenant Colonel William C. Harllee. And so it was that Bo Harllee became another "first" -- the first Director of MCI.
On February 2, 1995, 95 years to the day after Bo Harllee earned his commission, we celebrated, at Lejeune Hall in the Historic Washington Navy Yard, the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the Marine Corps Institute. And high tribute was paid to the immortal John A. Lejeune, the founding father of MCI. But all these years later, much of what is ours to celebrate is really attributable to a lesser known, always controversial and colorful, unsung "giant" of our Corps -- the man General Lejeune judiciously picked to pull it off and "make it happen," Bo Harllee.
"... Without Harllee's power to defy tradition, without his tremendous drive and vitality, the success of General Lejeune's school, might not have been so successful ... The success of the program was largely due to the intelligent, fiery, and even rebellious nature of Colonel Harllee." (Marine Corps Gazette, February 1950).
If Bo Harllee were to visit MCI today, he would be utterly amazed. He would be enormously impressed, justifiably proud, but maybe more than a little confused as he asked, "So, tell me, Marines, what have y'all done with our vocational courses in beekeeping, poultry management, and equitation...? "Yo, Bo! Where ya' been?"
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952 (Plt #437)--'72
GyG's Globe and Anchor! --Sites & Forums
GyG's Old Salt Marines Tavern ~Interactive~
Gunny G's Globe and Anchor Weblog
~SITES/FORUMS FOR THE THINKING MARINE!~