Unlike the last Commandants of the Marine Corps who all went through Naval Academy, Holcomb was a direct appointment from civilian life in 1900. By doing this, he became the first commandant since William Biddle not to graduate from the academy. However, he served the usual sea-garrison-sea duty that all of the commandants have done before. During one of the tours in Peking, of which he served two, he mastered Chinese. Holcomb qualified for the Marine Corps Rifle Team in 1901 and every year after it, that his position allowed him to.
During World War I, he formed the 2d Battalion, 6th Marines which fought at Belleau Wood and also at Soissons. After his wartime service ended, Holcomb had several French and American medals, including the Navy Cross.
Following his service in World War I, Holcomb served as commander at Guantonamo, attended the Army's Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth and returned to China for a three year tour.
Holcomb was serving as head of Quantico's Marine Corps Schools when he was selected as commandant in 1936. President Roosevelt re-appointed him a second four-year term. It was throughout this time that he saw the growth of the Corps from 17,000 to more then 300,000 thousand. Following Pearl Harbor, he succesfully fought off the idea to divide the Corps into commando units to used in raids in North Africa.
The downside, or black mark, on his term as commandant came with his refusal to allow blacks and women into the Corps. He lost both of these fights. After his term was over, he served in South Africa and then retired to his farm in Maryland.
Information for this node was taken from http://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/HD/Historical/Frequently_Requested/Commandants.htm