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#110 – Major General Seth Williams, Class of 1903, Helped Shape the Modern Marine Corps

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

By Gary Appleby ‘90

On April 1, 1917, only five days before formally entering the war, the Commandant of the Marine Corps appointed a three-man board to “recommend a site in the Washington area for a temporary training camp and maneuver field for the Marine Corps.” America was preparing to enter the war and needed freshly trained Marines, a place to train them, and it needed both fast. The location the board settled on was Quantico, VA and one of the men that helped make that decision was Captain Seth Williams, Norwich University Class of 1903.
Born January 19, 1880, in Foxboro, MA, Williams arrived at Norwich in the fall of 1899 and rose through the ranks his four years on the Hill, eventually leading the Corps of Cadets his senior year as the Cadet Major. Commissioned as a 2ndLt in the Marine Corps in June of 1903, Williams held multiple assignments as a junior officer, eventually serving in Quartermaster assignments at both the brigade and post level leading to his assignment as the Officer in Charge – Purchasing Division, Office of the Quartermaster of the Marine Corps. These assignments would give Williams the experience needed for the tasks that lie ahead.

After Quantico was chosen as the main training facility for the Marine Corps war effort, Captain Williams was put in charge of overseeing all construction and development at Camp Quantico and it’s likely his Civil Engineering degree from Norwich aided in his duties a great deal. Over the next six weeks construction ran apace and Quantico opened its doors in mid-May 1917. Over the coming months, thousands of new Marines, both officer and enlisted, would eat, train and sleep in the buildings and ranges whose construction Williams supervised. Quantico wasn’t his only assignment during this time. Williams was also the Marine Corps representative on the War Industries Board until October 1918 when the needs of the Marine Corps required his service as the Regimental Quartermaster for the 13th Marines in Tours, France.

Upon his return from the Great War, Williams held multiple quartermaster positions in the U.S. and overseas eventually being promoted to Colonel and serving as the Assistant Quartermaster General of the Marine Corps. In 1937, after only a year in that assignment, Williams was promoted to Brigadier General and to Quartermaster General of the Marine Corps. During this time, the Marine Corps would see tremendous growth and Williams would lead the design and development of much needed training facilities to include New River, Cherry Point, Camp Pendleton, and El Toro. But it was his biggest assignment, tasked to him by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Thomas Holcomb, that would make a lasting mark on the Corps. America’s anticipated entry into WWII required a new training facility, one large enough to train tens of thousands of new Marines in amphibious warfare. What was the name of the new base that Williams was assigned to design and build? Camp Lejeune – the largest Marine Corps base on the east coast. If you ever visit Camp Lejeune you may notice one of the main roads on base is named Seth Williams Blvd.

There is one final mark Seth Williams left on the United States Marine Corps. Every time you see the Marine Corps flag, you’re looking at the result of a design process carefully shepherded by Major General Seth Williams. That’s right – today’s Marine Corps flag exists as we know it in large part because of a Norwich Marine.

In early 1944, Major General Seth Williams reached mandatory retirement age. After 41 years of continuous service he was awarded the Legion of Merit by the Secretary of the Navy for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States as Quartermaster General of the United States Marine Corps from 1 December 1937 through 1 February 1944” and for “accomplishing tremendous tasks” to include “the establishment of new training camps, transportation of troops to combat zones, and the development of supply and distribution depots in the South and Central Pacific areas”.

Major General Seth Williams died July 29, 1963, aged 83. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.