Col Julia E. Hamblet 1916 – 2017
By Mary Ann Merritt
The Marine Corps is saddened by the loss of one of their iconic Marines. Called to her final duty station, Col Julia Hamblet will now guard the gates as she waits the arrival of our warriors. Her service changed the Corps as she fought to assure more women would advance and take their place equally in the Corps she loved.
Julia Estelle Hamblet was born May 12, 1916 in Winchester, Massachusetts to Martin and Marcia Coburn Hamblet. She was the youngest of 3 children and the only daughter.
After graduating from the Hartridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey she attended Vassar College and graduated in 1937 with a degree in economics. Col Hamblet continued her education getting a Master’s Degree from Ohio State University in 1950. She had actually traveled to England in 1946 intent on gaining her Master’s from the London School of Economics. A letter would soon change that part of her history.
After graduating from Vassar she was employed by the United States Information Service. Forgoing a job offer to Australia she decided to follow in the footsteps of her two brothers, one with the Army Psychological Warfare branch and the other as a Naval aviation ground officer, she wanted one member of the family to represent the Marines. She would later recall, “It was a time when everyone wanted to do what they could do for their country. I had been very fortunate in my life, and I just wanted to give back. I wanted to do what my country was asking me to do.” On 15 March 1943 she became among the first woman officer candidates in the Marine Corps Women Reserves. Training took place at Mount Holyoke College for six weeks where these women from all over learned basic military rules and regulations along with military courtesies. On completing the course, she was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Women’s Reserve, 4 May 1943. She was selected as adjutant to Colonel Katherine A. Towle (then a captain), at the Women’s Recruit Training Center at Hunter College in New York. Shortly afterwards she got her orders to Camp Lejeune, NC where she would oversee the women’s training battalion. Col Hamblet was then transferred to Camp Pendleton where she was promoted to Captain and she worked as the Executive Officer of the Women Marine Reserve Company. She assisted with the training other officer candidates in Quantico between 1943 and 45. She served as the Director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from 1946 to 1948 and as Director of Women Marines from 1953 to 1959, retired from active service, 1 May 1965, with the rank of Colonel. She was awarded the Legion of Merit upon retirement for “outstanding service as planner, administrator and leader of Women Marines throughout a distinguished career which encompassed every major assignment in the women’s program.
Her tours of duty included Marine bases in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Camp Pendleton, California; and Quantico, Virginia. Before the end of World War II, she was commanding Aviation Women’s Reserve Group I, numbering some 2,600 women, at the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. For her service during this period, she was awarded a Letter of Commendation with Commendation Ribbon.
In 1946 as she was ready to enroll for her Master’s program, she received a request from Commandant A. A. Vandegrift that asked her to return to head up the post war Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. It is said that she carried that letter in her purse for a few days before she opened it assuming it was just a thank you for your service letter that was being sent out to many that had been discharged.
She accepted and thus became the youngest woman ever to head one of the women’s services.
In 1951, after completing graduate work at Ohio State University, she was assigned to the Staff of the Commander, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, with headquarters in Hawaii. The following year, she was named Officer in Charge of the Women Officers Training Detachment, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico.
Demobilization saw the Women’s Reserve cut to only 8 officers and 159 enlisted. It was the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act in 1948 that brought about a transfer of personnel into the regular components of the Marine Corps with the title of Women Marines.
The office of the wartime MCWR was closed on 15 June 1946 when Colonel Towle began terminal leave. Before leaving the Marine Corps to return to the University of California’s Berkeley campus as administrative assistant to the vice president and provost, Colonel Towle proposed the name of Major Julia E. Hamblet to be director of the women’s postwar organization. She wrote:
“It is believed that Major Hamblet has all the attributes and qualifications desirable in a director of a postwar MCWR. She is a college graduate, about 30 years of age (which is considered a great advantage in appealing to volunteers among younger women, especially those of college age), of fine appearance, with a great deal of natural dignity and poise, and has an outstanding service record and reputation. She has had experience in both line and aviation assignments and has served in the present MCWR since her commissioning in the First Officers’ Class in May 1943”.
On 1 May 1953, she assumed duty as Director of Women Marines, again succeeding Colonel Towle who was retiring. The post carried with it the rank of colonel, and Colonel Hamblet continued to serve in that capacity when her four-year tour of duty was extended to 1 March 1959. After nine years as a Director, Col. Hamblet sought a change. She stated, “I served the longest of any female Director and was the youngest of any female Director. I felt I was blocking other women from being Director. I wanted other women to have that chance to move up.”
Later in March, she was assigned duty in Naples, Italy, as Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces, Southern Europe. She was very excited by this part of her experience and felt it was the most interesting in her illustrious career.
In May 1962, on her return from Italy, Colonel Hamblet reported to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, as Commanding Officer, Women’s Recruit Training Battalion, and served in this capacity until her retirement several years later after 22 years of service. She was the second Woman Marine to retire as a full colonel. She always reflected fondly on her service though when she joined she never foresaw a military career. She especially enjoyed the camaraderie with her fellow Marines.
Retirement never slowed her down. She went on to work as an administrator in the United States Office of Education working in Washington DC before moving to Seattle WA where she headed up the student loan programs. In 1978 she retired for the final time coming back to the East Coast settling in Alexandria, VA. Her volunteer work continued with the Red Cross and Y.W.C.A. She was a Ruling Elder in Alexandria and a member of the College of Elders in Williamsburg. She was on the Residents Board at Williamsburg Landing and was a volunteer at the Williamsburg Library where she had settled in 1986.
Col Julia Hamblet also had her 5 minutes of fame when on 13 May 1956 she appeared on “What’s My Line”. They announced her job as “Commandant of Women’s Marine Corps” On 12 February 1957 she then appeared on, “To Tell The Truth.” She donated her winnings to the Navy relief fund in honor of Armed Services Week.
Each year the Anniversary of women Marines was celebrated with a gift of rose to the Director of Women Marines. They were given one rose for each year of the anniversary.
Col Hamblet was present in May 1968 as they celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Women in the Marine Corps. She with many others returned to Mt Holyoke to celebrate the first class of graduates from 1943.
Col Hamblet wrote the following on the 50th Anniversary of the Women Marines Association in 2010.
“It has been a long walk. In 1943, we were women Marines. We trod a long walk…at times a rocky path…and became Marines. No longer were there women companies, women promotion rosters, and long lists of occupation fields restricted to women. Each step along the way we had to demonstrate again that we were worthy of the title “Marine”…and we did it.”
“WMA has been a great help in keeping alive the history of what we women have done. It encouraged women entering the Corps to set and reach higher goals, furthering the acceptance and utilization of women in the Marine Corps. Through its local chapters, WMA has given women in the Marine Corps, active and retired, a home port.”
Congratulations WMA, on your 50th Anniversary
Colonel Julia E. Hamblet, USMC (Ret)
Lt. Col. Rhonda Amtower, USMC retired, became a very special friend to Col. Hamblet in her last years. The family reported that Lt. Col. Amtower visited frequently, keeping her abreast of the latest news and happenings. On special holidays like birthdays or Christmas, she brought dozens of cards from Marines past and present, across the entire country. These cards often came with words of praise and encouragement, thanking Col. Hamblet for her years of service and the path she blazed for women in the military. These were very meaningful to her, as well as to her family.
Of one visit, Lt. Col. Amtower wrote: “Had a wonderful visit with Col. Hamblet today.
decorated the table with Marine Corps memorabilia and got a small cake to celebrate the cake cutting ceremony we always have on the Marine Corps birthday. We watched a video of the Commandant’s birthday message and sang the Marine Hymn. It really meant a lot to me to share the Marine Corps birthday with such a special Marine.”
A family member said of Lt. Col. Amtower’s visits, “We just cannot thank Rhonda enough for bringing the special joy of re-connecting our aunt, Judy, with a cherished part of her past. For that, we are forever grateful. We could not have asked for a kinder soul than Rhonda to be that incredible link!”
The family encourages other Marines to reach out to retired members of the Corps to share memories and thank them for their service.
Carol Mutter reminds us, “After participating with others during WWII, she formed us into a viable part of the Marine Corps after the war. We have an award named for her that is given out at the MCHF annual awards banquet. It was initially funded by a bequest from Lotus Mort who DID serve with and had infinite respect for Col Hamblet. The Lotus Mort Fund is dedicated to furthering the history of women in the Corps; it helps pay for exhibits, publications and collections pertaining to women in the Marine Corps in addition to paying for the annual Hamblet award.”
Col Hamblet known to Rhonda Amtower as Judy, forged a bond over several years as she went to visit her on a regular basis. Amtower stated, “It truly has been such a wonderful opportunity to get to know Colonel Hamblet these past couple of years. We shared our love of the Marine Corps and travels around the world. I found it hard to find someplace she had not been before. But when I got the word from her niece that she was making her final journey home I was in Santorini Greece a new location for us both. So here’s to you Colonel Hamblet I will keep travelling for you as you look over us all from the best location anyone could ask for! God Bless you and Semper Fidelis!”
Catherine Murray who worked with Col Hamblet relates the following. “I had the pleasure of working for Col. Hamblet. She was a great leader and one of my heroes in the USMC. When I transferred to London, England I was honored to receive a call from her inviting me to lunch. I was so happy and humbled that she took the time to touch base with me while she happened to be there. All of us women Marines owe her a great deal for truly paving the way and raising the bar. So many of us looked up to her distinguished illustrious Marine Corps career as we aspired to be the best Marines we could be”. MSgt. Catherine G. Murray USMC (ret.) recently celebrated her 100th birthday and cherishes her time in the Corps and those she served with especially Col Hamblet.
Col Hamblet passed away peacefully on 17 April 2017 surrounded by family. Guarding the gates is a Marine who broke barriers and opened doors that thousands of women have laid a path of equality. She was respected as she upheld at all times the values of our Corps. Rest in Peace. Semper Fidelis Marine.
Col Hamblet was a life member of the Women Marine Association. She loved her Corps and her Marines. We have lost an icon from our history. Your tour of duty is over Ma’am.
Donations in her honor can be made to Women Marines Association General Fund