Wallace M. Greene Jr., 95, a retired four-star general who was commandant of the Marine Corps during the buildup of U.S. forces for the war in Southeast Asia, died March 8 at Goodwin House in Alexandria. He had multiple myeloma.
During a 37-year career that took him to China in the 1930s and to London and the South Pacific in World War II, Gen. Greene gained a reputation as a brilliant staff officer, long-range planner and troubleshooter. He was commandant from 1964 through 1967. In March 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered U.S. combat troops to what was then South Vietnam, a Marine regiment was the first American combat unit to enter the country. The U.S. presence eventually grew to 500,000, of which about 70,000 were Marines. Under Gen. Greene, the Marine Corps itself grew from 178,000 active-duty personnel to nearly 300,000.
As chief of staff of the Marine Corps and then as commandant, Gen. Greene sponsored and encouraged a small group of officers to brainstorm a look 20 years into the future to see what a modern battlefield might be like and what it would require. The result was a study called MarCor 85, and its broad outlines are part of Marine Corps doctrine today.
A key proposal was training individual infantrymen to spot targets and use satellite positioning and "terminal guidance" systems to call in artillery, airstrikes or rockets. These techniques have been used by Marines and special forces in campaigns from the Gulf War in 1991 to Afghanistan.
Wallace Martin Greene Jr. was born in Waterbury, Vt., on Dec. 27, 1907. He was a descendant of Nathaniel Greene, the Revolutionary War hero. He attended the University of Vermont for a year before entering the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He graduated in 1930 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
His early assignments included sea duty aboard the battleship Tennessee and a period studying chemical warfare at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland. From 1937 to 1939, he was stationed with the Fourth Marine Regiment in Shanghai. This was the period of Japan's expansion into China, and the Marines helped to provide security to the International Settlement.
In World War II, Gen. Greene was a naval observer in London and then a staff officer in American Samoa. In 1944, he helped plan operations in the Marshall Islands and the invasions of Saipan and Tinian in the Mariana Islands.
In the postwar years, Gen. Greene graduated from the National War College and had assignments at the Quantico Marine Corps Base, Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, Hawaii and elsewhere and on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In 1956, Gen. Greene was ordered to the Marine recruit depot at Parris Island, S.C. Six recruits had drowned during an unauthorized night training march. The tragedy shook the Marine Corps to its institutional and cultural foundations.
Gen. Greene was put in charge of recruit training at the base and later served as commanding general of the base itself. He put an end to such long-standing practices as mass punishments and physical abuse of recruits.
In 1958, Gen. Greene was ordered to Marine Corps headquarters. In 1960, he was named chief of staff, the No. 2 position in the Corps at that time. In October 1963, he was nominated by President John F. Kennedy to be commandant. He was confirmed by the Senate and took office on Jan. 1, 1964.
In addition to meeting the requirements of the war in Vietnam, Gen. Greene centralized and reorganized the management of personnel and equipment. He served until Dec. 31, 1967, and then retired. He was a longtime resident of McLean.
Gen. Greene's military decorations include two awards of the Distinguished Service Medal and two awards of the Legion of Merit, both with the combat "v" device.
Gen. Greene's wife, the former Vaughn H. Emory, whom he married in 1931, died in 2001.
Survivors include a son, Wallace M. Greene III, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, of Arlington, and a daughter, Vaug.