Handsome Jack of the Marines

Myers John Twiggs 001John Twiggs Myers (29 January 1871—17 April 1952) was the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, for whom Fort Myers, Florida is named, the grandson of Major General David E. Twiggs, and the great grandson of General John Twiggs, a hero of the American Revolutionary War.  Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Handsome Jack graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1892 and received an appointment as Assistant Engineer two years later. In March 1895, Myers was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps.

In spite of the fact that few people know of John Twiggs Myers, he has been portrayed in two Hollywood films that incorporate his service as a U. S. Marine officer. The first film was titled 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Myers, a chap named Major Matt Lewis commanding the Marines during the Boxer Rebellion. In the second film, titled The Wind and the Lion, Steve Kanaly plays the role of Captain Jerome, which in the actual event, was John Twiggs Myers.

Completing his studies at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, Myers was ordered to active duty at the outbreak of the Spanish American War. He led a Marine detachment that participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison, and then later sailed with the USS Charleston to the Philippine Islands, then being attached to the USS Baltimore.

During the Philippine-American War, Myers led several amphibious landings against Filipino insurgents in 1899, including the Battle of Olongapo and the Battle of Zapote River, gaining recognition for his heroic conduct. He was promoted to captain some time in 1899.

In May 1900, Myers was sent to China aboard the USS Newark and put ashore in command of a detachment of 48 Marines (including then Private Dan Daly) and 3 sailors to protect the American Legation in Peking. Myers and his Marines were assigned the most vulnerable section of the compounds defenses, the Tartar Wall. The Tartar Wall rose to a height of 45 feet, and was about 40 feet wide, forming a bulwark that over looked the foreign legation. Should this edifice fall into Chinese hands, the entire foreign legation would be exposed to the Boxer’s long rifle fires. Each day, the Chinese Boxers erected barricades, inching ever closer to the German position (on the eastern wall), and the American position (on the western approach).

Inexplicably, the Germans abandoned their position, and their American counterparts, leaving the Marines to defend the entire section. At 2 a.m. on the night of 3 July 1900, Captain Myers, while supported by 26 British Marines and 15 Russians, led an assault against the Chinese barricade, killing 20 Chinese and expelling the rest of them from the Tartar Wall. Myers received a serious spear wound to his leg. As a result of his courage under extremely dire conditions, Myers was advanced to the rank of Major, later receiving the Brevet Medal (See notes), which was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor for officers who, at that time, were ineligible for receive the Medal of Honor.

Brevet Medal 001Upon recovering from his wounds, Myers served as Provost Marshal on American Samoa, and was thereafter assigned to command the Marine Barracks, Bremerton, Washington.

In 1904, Myers led the detachment of Marines that accompanied the USS Brooklyn to Tangier, Morocco during the Perdicaris Incident. After the incident was concluded, Myers completed the Naval War College, commanded the NCO School at Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C., and later commanded the Barracks for several months.  In August 1906, Major Meyers assumed command of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Philippines until, in 1907 he was assigned to the USS West Virginia as Fleet Marine Officer of the Asiatic Fleet.  In 1911, Meyers completed the U. S. Army Field Officer’s School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army War College, graduating in 1912.  In that year, Meyers commanded a battalion with the Second Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in the following year commanded the Marine Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1916, then Lieutenant Colonel Meyers commanded the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines until assigned as Fleet Marine Officer, U. S. Atlantic Fleet where he served until August 1918.  He then assumed command of the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina through November 1918.

In 1921, Myers was appointed Inspector General of the Department of the Pacific, serving in that position for three years, and from 1925-1928, he commanded the 1st Marine Brigade stationed in Haiti. After service as Commanding General, Department of the Pacific, Myers retired from active service in 1935 having achieved 46 years of service. In 1942, in recognition of his distinguished service, he was advanced to the grade of lieutenant general on the retired list.

John Twiggs Myers passed away at the age of 81 at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida on 17 April 1952. He was the last living recipient of the Brevet Medal.



1. Myers was one of only 20 Marine Corps officers to receive this medal.

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Retired Marine, historian, writer.

11 thoughts on “Handsome Jack of the Marines”

  1. Another fascinating story from the USMC annals, sir. To have survived a serious wound in those pre-penicillin days shows how hardy these folks were. Indeed, a very distinguished career – one of many of the Corps. Thanks for sharing… BTW, with all your stories of USMC involvement in China, perhaps the Marine Corps Hymn is in need of amendment. 🙂


    1. If the Marine Corps Hymn incorporated every battle fought by American Marines, it would become a tome and the longest song ever produced. It would last so long that they would have to bring in a back-up orchestra.


  2. I really love this story; Handsome Jack. What an interesting fellow he was. Now I remember watching both of those films (and enjoyed them), and I remember thinking that Captain Jerome was one salty jarhead. I begin to suspect that whoever developed the film dialogue for Captain Jerome did some research and captured precisely the kind of man Handsome Jack really was. Thank you for this great entertainment!


  3. Absolutely great story! I was in Olongapo a couple of times. Enough said about that.


  4. As a woman, of course, I checked Wiki to see if he was married. It seems he was not. Who could be, when you’re never home!? Amazing man.
    great story; thanks, Mustang!


    1. Actually, General Meyers was married to Alice Cutts Meyers (1874-1963) who came from Mare Island, California.


  5. These stories are so interesting and largely hidden from view and the history books.Thanks for Giving them life and bringing them to us. He looks like another, Mustang to me!


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