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Rathvon M. Tompkins

Rathvon McClure Tompkins (August 23, 1912 – September 17, 1999) was an highly decorated officer of United States Marine Corps with the rank of Major General. He saw combat during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and led Marine units during Dominican Civil War.

Rathvon McClure Tompkins
Born (1912-08-23)August 23, 1912
Boulder, Colorado
Died September 17, 1999(1999-09-17) (aged 87)
Lexington, South Carolina
Buried Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch Seal of the United States Marine Corps.svg United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1935–1971
Rank US-O8 insignia.svg Major General
Service number 0-5269
Commands held Camp Lejeune
3rd Marine Division
MCRD Parris Island
2nd Marine Division
5th Marine Regiment
1st Battalion, 29th Marines

World War II

Dominican Civil War
Korean War
Vietnam War

Awards Navy Cross
Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal (2)
Purple Heart

Tompkins was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the Battle of Saipan and the Silver Star for actions during the Battle of Tarawa.[1]


Early yearsEdit

Rathvon M. Tompkins was born on August 23, 1912 in Boulder, Colorado,[2]. He was the son of Anne Cochran Rathvon (1887–1924) and Howard Richard Kelsey Tompkins (1882–1945). His father served in the 89th Division during World War I, commanding a battery of field artillery and rising to the rank of Major.

He was sent to a private boarding school for boys in South Kent, Connecticut and subsequently enrolled the University of Colorado. Tompkins graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree in the summer of 1935 and subsequently enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on June 5th of that year. He was subsequently selected for the Reserve Platoon leaders' course at Marine Corps Base San Diego, California during July and August 1935 and commissioned Second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve on March 25, 1936.

World War IIEdit

Tompkins worked three years in a private sector, before he was reacalled to active service in October 1939. He was attached to the Reserve Officers Class within Marine Corps Schools Quantico, Virginia and graduated during the following month of that year. Tompkins was subsequently sent to San Diego, California and attached to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines under Lieutenant colonel John Thomason as Platoon Leader.

He was promoted to the rank of First lieutenant in February 1940 and later appointed 2nd Battalion adjutant (Bn-1). During May 1941, his regiment was attached to 1st Provisional Marine Brigade under Brigadier general John Marston and sailed for Iceland in order to prevent Germans to occupy the island. Tompkins spent almost eight months with occupation duties in Reykjavík and returned to the United States in March 1942 as Captain.

Upon his return, 6th Marines were attached to 2nd Marine Division at San Diego and began with the preparations for combat deployment. Tompkins was promoted to the rank of Major in August 1942 and appointed Regimental operations officer. He sailed to the Pacific area one month later under the command of World War I hero, Colonel Gilder D. Jackson. Tompkins and his unit arrived to Wellington, New Zealand at the end of October 1942 and began with the training.

The Marine units from 1st Marine Division already fought on Guadalcanal and 6th Marines together with forward echelon of 2nd Marine Division under Brigadier general Alphonse DeCarre were ordered to reinforce them on December 26, 1942. They arrived on Guadalcanal at the beginning of January 1943 and subsequently took part in the final attack inland and took part in the Battle of Gifu.

Tompkis and his 6th Marines together with 8th Marines encircled the remnants of two Japanese Regiments from 2nd Imperial Japanese Army Division and subsequently killed 642 Japanese troops with only capturing two. After the island was declared secured during the beginning of February 1943, Tompkins and his 6th Marines were ordered to the rear area near the beach, for hot showers and some rest. For his service at Guadalcanal, he was decorated with Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V".[3]

The 6th Marines subsequently returned to New Zealand on February 19, 1943 for rest and refit. Besides wounded men from combat, many of men under Tompkins suffered from Malaria. It took almost several months to transform them back to the effective combat force. While in New Zealand, Tompkins was transferred to the 2nd Marine division staff and appointed Assistant Operations officer. He then took part in the preparing of the division for new mission, Tarawa Atoll in Gilbert Islands. Japanese build an large air base there and allies need to secure that island for the next advance toward the Marshall Islands.

On November 20th of that year, units of 2nd Marine Division landed on Betio Island in South Tarawa under heavy enemy machine gun and mortar fire. Tompkins landed on Red beach on D-Day and was informed about "elements of a Marine battalion were pinned under Betio Pier by continuous Japanese machine gun, sniper and intermittent cannon fire and that numerous casualties were helpless in the water, Major Tompkins unhesitatingly braved the savage bombardment to swim to a native skiff and returning under the blasting salvos of deadly fire rescued three wounded men from the treacherous waters under the pier and transported them to a Higgins boat, subsequently proceeding to a reef off the beach where he evacuated four additional casualties from a damaged landing craft. By his daring initiative resolute fortitude and persevering efforts in the face of overwhelming odds, Major Tompkins saved seven Marines from almost certain death."

Tompkins was decorated with Silver Star for his acts of valor at Tarawa and also received promotion to the rank of Lieutenant colonel in December 1943. The 2nd Marine Division suffered heavy casualties with 1,009 KIA and another 2,101 WIA and was ordered to Hawaii for rest and refit. Tompkins remained in the capacity of Assistant Operations officer under new division commander, Thomas E. Watson, who joined 2nd Division during April 1944.

The 2nd Division conducted intensive training in order to prepare for upcoming operation, Marianas Islands. The capture of Marianas could provide new air base, which could be used for an attack on Japan.

The main assault on the Island of Saipan was commenced on June 15, 1944 and Tompkins landed on the same day. On June 17th, Lieutenant Colonel Guy E. Tannyhill, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, which was attached to the 2nd Marine Division, was wounded by enemy sniper and evacuated from the Island. Tompkins subsequently assumed command of the battalion on the same day and promptly reorganized heavily depleted unit. His new battalion was located in the swamp area and pinned down by enemy snipers and gun emplacements. Tompkins made a hasty reconnaissance of the front lines and subsequently ordered his men and several tanks to the attack. During the subsequent attack, his troops captured vital objectives and overrun Japanese strongpoints according to plan.[4]

Unfortunatelly, during the fierce fighting on July 3rd, Tompkins was hit by the fragments of enemy shell and subsequently evacuated to the United States. For his heroism in combat while on Saipan, Tompkins was decorated with the Navy Cross, the United States military's second-highest decoration awarded for valor in combat. He also received the Purple Heart for his wounds.[4]

His wounds were so serious, that he spent next five months in the Naval Hospital in San Diego, California. Tompkins was released from the hospital at the beginning of February 1945 and after the brief vacation at home, he was attached to the Division of Plans and Policies at Headquarters Marine Corps under Brigadier general Gerald C. Thomas.

He dedicated more than 32 years of service to the Marine Corps.[3]

Tompkins served in the Pacific during World War II. He was the commanding officer of a battalion that fought on the island of Saipan in the Marianas.[5] He received the Navy Cross for an act of gallantry on Saipan on 17 June 1944.[1][2] He also obtained a Silver Star at Tarawa and a Bronze Star Medal at Guadalcanal.[3][6][7]

Tompkins participated in the 1965 U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic.[8] In June 1966 he was put in command of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island.[3]

He was also active during the Korean War, commanding the 5th Marines of the 1st Marine Division.[3]

In 1967 Tompkins was stationed in South Vietnam, in command of the 3rd Marine Division. His division participated in the Battle of Khe Sanh.[1]


Tompkins served as base commander of the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina for two years. He then retired from active duty in 1971.

He died on 17 September 1999 in Lexington, South Carolina, following a stroke.


Tompkins was decorated with the Navy Cross, the United States military's second-highest decoration awarded for valor in combat for his heroism during the Battle of Saipan on June 17, 1944. He was then a lieutenant colonel serving as Commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 29th Marine Regiment attached to 2nd Marine Division. His citation states in part:

His citation states in part:[4]

"Summoned from a distant section of the front when the commanding officer of a hard-pressed battalion became a casualty, Lieutenant Colonel Tompkins found that the unit's advance had been held up by a swamp heavily infested with Japanese snipers, a cliff honeycombed with powerful hostile gun emplacements, and an elaborate trench system in a cocoanut grove. Determined to seize these terrain features before dusk, he unhesitatingly risked his life to make a hasty reconnaissance of the front lines. Rallying the weary troops who had fought bitterly all day with but slight gain, he skillfully disposed his tanks for maximum combat efficiency and led his men in a brilliantly executed attack against these vital objectives, waging battle with relentless fury and reducing the Japanese strongpoints according to plan. An inspiring leader, Lieutenant Colonel Tompkins, by his bold tactics, decisive judgment and indomitable fighting spirit in the face of overwhelming opposition, contributed essentially to the ultimate conquest of this important enemy base, and his great personal valor and constant devotion to duty throughout a period of fierce hostilities reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service."

Here is the ribbon bar of Major general Rathvon M. Tompkins:[4][3]

1st Row Navy Cross Navy Distinguished Service Medal with one 516" Gold Star Silver Star
2nd Row Legion of Merit with one 516" Gold Star and Combat "V" Bronze Star Medal with one 516" Gold Star and Combat "V" Joint Service Commendation Medal Purple Heart
3rd Row Reserve Good Conduct Medal Navy Presidential Unit Citation with one star Navy Unit Commendation with one star Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal with one star
4th Row American Defense Service Medal with Base Clasp European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four 3/16 inch service stars American Campaign Medal
5th Row World War II Victory Medal National Defense Service Medal with one star Korean Service Medal with one 3/16 inch service star Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
6th Row Vietnam Service Medal with one silver and two bronze 3/16 inch service stars National Order of Vietnam, 5th Class Vietnam Distinguished Service Order, 1st Class Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
7th Row United Nations Korea Medal Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Vietnam Campaign Medal

Military offices
Preceded by
Joseph O. Butcher
Commanding General of the Camp Lejeune
January 1, 1969 – June 30, 1971
Succeeded by
Carl A. Youngdale
Preceded by
Louis Metzger
Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Division
November 28, 1967 – May 20, 1968
Succeeded by
Raymond G. Davis
Preceded by
James M. Masters Sr.
Commanding General of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island
June 16, 1966 – November 22, 1967
Succeeded by
Ormond R. Simpson
Preceded by
Frederick L. Wieseman
Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division
June 24, 1963 – September 26, 1963
Succeeded by
William J. Van Ryzin


  • Tompkins, Rathvon M. Ubique. Marine Corps Gazette 49, no. 9 (Sept. 1965): 32–39.


  1. ^ a b c "Operations Medina, Bastion Hill, Lam Son 138, Operation Fremont, Operation Kentucky, Operation Ardmore, Operation Scotland, Operation Napoleon, Operation Neosho". Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Full Text Citations For Award of The Navy Cross". Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Rathvon McClure Tompkins,Major General, United States Marine Corps". Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Valor awards for Rathvon M. Tompkins". Militarytimes Websites. Retrieved 9 December 2017. 
  5. ^ Major Carl W. Hoffman, USMC (1954). "Saipan: The Beginning of the End". USMC Historical Monograph. Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  6. ^ "Appendix E: Marine Corps Station List". Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  7. ^ "History of the Sixth Marine Division". Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  8. ^ Ringler, Jack K.; Shaw, Henry I. "U.S. Marine Corps Operations in the Dominican Republic, April–June 1965". Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.