Enlisting in the Marines today is essentially as it has always been, normally achieved through a Marine Corps recruiter, being examined in various ways through record checks, medical tests, aptitude tests, and so forth.
Obtaining a Marine Corps commission, on the other hand, has changed over the years. Today, an applicant is able to pursue several venues to obtain a commission, including NROTC program, graduating from the US Naval Academy, the Platoon Leaders Class, and Officer’s Candidate Class. In the early days, obtaining a commission was more often than not a matter of your father’s political connections —noting that average people didn’t have political connections, so wealthy parents gave an applicant a “leg up” on the process.
Charles Laurie McCawley was one of those “favored” individuals who achieved a commission in the United States Marine Corps in 1897 in a most unusual fashion. McCawley was born in 1865, the son of Charles Grymes McCawley, in Massachusetts. In 1881, Charles Laurie applied for and became the chief clerk of the Marine Corps, serving in that position until 1897. His father served as Colonel Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps from 1 November 1876 until 29 January 1891.
On the day following his father’s retirement, aged 26-years, Charles Laurie received an appointment to the rank of captain in the US Marine Corps while continuing to serve as Chief Clerk of the Marine Corps, a post that he held until 1897.
In the following year, Captain McCawley was transferred to the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, where he served as Quartermaster, 1st Marine Battalion. A few days later, the battalion was assigned to duty with the North Atlantic Squadron. It embarked on 22 April 1898 aboard the USS Panther and proceeded to Key West, Florida in support of operations in Cuba. Captain McCawley participated in battles with the Spanish Army and Cuban irregulars between 11-13 June 1898 near Camp McCalla (Guantanamo Bay).
Later embarked aboard USS Resolute, Captain McCawley participated in the bombardment of Manzanillo, Cuba, in preparation for an amphibious assault on 12 August. The landing was cancelled, however, when President McKinley announced an armistice with Spain.
In the following month, McCawley was ordered back to Marine Corps headquarters where he was assigned to duty as Assistant Quartermaster of the Marine Corps. McCawley was promoted to major on 3 March 1899. In April, Major McCawley was ordered to duty in the Philippine Islands, where he arrived on 23 May—only to be transferred again to Mare Island, California where he was ordered to inspect public buildings at Mare Island and Puget Sound, Washington.
McCawley again reported to the Commandant of the Marine Corps for duty on 20 November 1899. Upon his arrival back in Washington, McCawley was informed that he had received a brevet promotion to Major as a result of his gallant conduct during the Spanish-American War —apparently, it had taken several months for this correspondence to catch up with him. Since he had already been promoted to major, the brevet promotion had no effect on his status, but it did later qualify him for the award of the Marine Corps Brevet Medal.
From 1 July 1900, McCawley served primarily as an administrative/logistics officer at various locations: Office of the Quartermaster of the Marine Corps, Protocol Officer, US Army Office of Buildings and Grounds (for duty with the White House), and Assistant Quartermaster of the Marine Corps. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and in July, 1908 he became the Marine Corps Quartermaster. He was promoted to colonel in 1913, and to Brigadier General in 1916.
In September 1918, as Quartermaster of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General McCawley accompanied the Commandant of the Marine Corps on an inspection tour of Marine Corps units in France. President Woodrow Wilson awarded McCawley the Navy Distinguished Service Medal on Armistice Day, 1920. Then, having reached the mandatory retirement age (64-years), McCawley was retired from active service on 24 August 1929.
Brigadier General McCawley passed away at his home in Washington DC on 29 April 1935.
The citation for the Navy Distinguished Service Medal reads as follows:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Brigadier General Charles Laurie McCawley, United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility in the organization and administration of the Quartermaster’s Department of the Marine Corps during World War I. Through his energy and efficient management this Department was able successfully to meet the various emergencies and difficulties connected with the transportation, subsistence, housing and clothing of the personnel of the Marine Corps \throughout the period of the war [World War I].