William Oscar Brice
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)• Korean War (1950 - 1953)
William Oscar Brice, Jr.
William Oscar Brice, Jr. was born on 10 December 1898 and raised in the environs of Columbia, SC. He attended high school at the Mt. Zion Institute in Winnsboro, SC, from 1913 to 1917 and, after graduation, he enlisted and served in the U.S. Army in the latter part of World War I.
After the war, Brice resumed his education by attending The Citadel at Charleston, SC, where he graduated with the class of 1921. On 25 September 1921, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and was assigned to attend the Company Officers School at Quantico, VA. After graduating from that school in July 1922, he was stationed at the Marine Barracks, Parris Island, SC, until May 1923, when he was sent to Haiti to serve with the 1st Marine Brigade. In February 1924, he returned to the U.S. to begin flight training at the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, FL. He completed the training and was designated as a Naval Aviator in August '24.
Brice received additional flight training at Pensacola and then briefly served with Observation Squadron 3 at Quantico. In June 1925, he began a second overseas tour of duty, this time with Scouting Squadron 1 on Guam. Brice was ordered to China in April 1927; most of the Squadron was sent there to help protect Americans and other foreigners during the Chinese Civil War. A month later, the Squadron was withdrawn to the Philippines while arrangements for a flying field were made with the Chinese government. In June, the Squadron returned to China and began operating from Camp MacMurray at Hsin Ho, in support of the 3rd Marine Brigade.
In December 1927, Brice returned to the U.S. and, in January, he was assigned to Fighter Squadron 9-M at Quantico, where he remained until October 1931. He reported aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington on November 2nd as commander of Scouting Squadron 15-M. Thus his Squadron became one of the first two Marine squadrons to be based on U.S. Navy carriers. (The other unit, Scouting Squadron 14-M, boarded the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga the same day.) Brice served onboard the Lexington until January 1933.
After six months of duty at San Diego, CA, in June of 1933, he once again returned to Quantico. For the next three years, his duties at Quantico included aviation duty; completing the Junior Course; and serving as a member of the War Plans Section. In August 1936, he became a student at the Army Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, AL. After graduation in June 1937, Brice returned to Quantico to serve as Executive Officer and then, Commander, of Scouting Squadron 1. He served as an Instructor at Pensacola from June 1939 to August 1941, then returned to Quantico; this time as Operations Officer of Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11). Brice and MAG-11 moved to San Diego in December 1941.
At San Diego, in March of '42 he took command of Marine Aircraft Group 12 and led that unit until September. He then rejoined Marine Aircraft Group 11 as its commander and, a month later, the unit sailed for the New Hebrides Islands (via New Caledonia), where the group began supplying planes and pilots to Guadalcanal. In December 1942, he moved to Guadalcanal to take command of Marine Aircraft Group 14 and all the search, bombing and torpedo planes based there. He remained until April 1943, when he departed for New Zealand with MAG-14. Brice was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions at Guadalcanal. He received the Order of the British Empire (with rank of Honorary Commander, Military Division) for his service with the New Zealand Air Force.
In August 1943, Brice returned to the Solomon Islands with MAG-14 to support the New Georgia and Bougainville operations. MAG-14 became the nucleus of the Solomon Fighter Command which directed all Solomon Islands-based Army, Navy, Marine and Royal New Zealand fighter operations against Rabaul; Japan's biggest base in the Southwest Pacific. In October, Brice was given added duty as the head of Fighter Command. He relinquished his command of MAG-14 in January 1944, but continued to head Fighter Command until he returned to the U.S. in March 1944. For his actions as head of Fighter Command, Brice was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat "Valor" Device and, for his combat flights in the Solomon Islands, he received the Air Medal.
After service in various capacities at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, NC, in September 1944 Brice reported to Marine Corps Headquarters, where he served as Executive Officer of the Division of Plans and Policies until June 1945. The same year he was promoted to Brigadier General at the age of 46, which made him the youngest general officer then in the Marine Corps. He went to Hawaii in July to take over as Chief of Staff, Air, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific; a post he held until May 1947. For his service in that command, he earned the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "Valor" Device. The following month, Brice returned to Marine Corps Headquarters as Assistant Director of Marine Aviation and remained there until May 1949.
Brice's next tour of duty was as Commander of Marine Air Reserve Training at Glenview, IL. In April 1951, he went to Korea to become Assistant Commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. In August he was promoted to Major General and returned to Hawaii in October as Deputy Commander, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. He served in that capacity until his return to the U.S. in March 1952. He became Director of Marine Aviation the following month and, when that post was elevated to a lieutenant general's billet in August 1953, he was awarded his third star. He left Washington in July 1955, and assumed his final command on September 9th of that year. He retired from active duty in 1956. Upon his retirement, he was promoted to the rank of General under an Act of Congress that allowed the promotion in recognition of his combat citations. He thus became the tenth 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.
Medals and Awards
Distinguished Service Medal
• Induction into the U.S. Naval Aviation Hall of Honor, located at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL, in 2000. Induction into the Hall of Honor recognizes individuals "who by their actions or achievements made outstanding contributions to Naval Aviation."
• He is on the list of Distinguished Alumni at The Citadel (Class of 1921) as one of four alumni to attain 4-star rank.
Death and Burial
General William Oscar Brice, Jr. died at age 73 on 30 January 1972, in the U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Jackson, SC. He is buried at Sion Presbyterian Cemetery in Winnsboro, Fairfield County, SC, in the area where he grew up.
|Honoree ID: 376||Created by: MHOH|