John 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, the Marine Corps offered Jack Myers a commission as a second lieutenant.
Despite the fact that few people know of John Twiggs Myers, Hollywood film producers have portrayed this colorful Marine officer in two popular films that were loosely based on his exploits as a “tall, roguishly handsome, global soldier of the sea.” The first film was titled 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Myers, a chap named Major Matt Lewis commanding American Marines during the Boxer Rebellion. In the second film, The Wind and the Lion, actor Steve Kanaly played the role of Captain Jerome. In the actual event, Jerome was John Twiggs Myers.
After completing his studies at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the Marine Corps ordered Jack Myers to active duty. As Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, USS Charleston, Myers participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison, and then later sailed to the Philippine Islands, where he was transferred to USS Baltimore.
During the Philippine-American War, Myers led several amphibious landings against Filipino insurgents, notably at the Battle of Olongapo and the Battle of Zapote River. His courage under fire in both engagements earned him recognition as an exceptional officer. The Marine Corps promoted Myers to captain toward the end of 1899.
In May 1900, Captain Myers accompanied the USS Newark to China. Upon arrival, his navy commanding officer ordered Myers ashore to command a detachment of 48 Marines (including then Private Dan Daly) and 3 sailors. Myers’ assignment in Peking was to protect the American Legation. Because of his reputation for intrepidity under fire, the most vulnerable section of Legation’s defense, the so-called Tartar Wall, became Myers’s responsibility.
The Tartar Wall rose to a height of 45 feet with a bulwark of around forty feet in width that overlooked 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, 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, 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. During this engagement, Myers received a serious spear wound to his leg. As a result of his tenacity under extremely dire conditions, the Marine Corps advanced Myers to the rank of Major and later awarded him the Brevet Medal (See notes), which in 1900 was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor for officers. At that time, Marine officers were ineligible to receive the Medal of Honor.
While recovering from his wounds, Myers served as Provost Marshal on American Samoa. He was thereafter assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Bremerton, Washington.
In 1904, Myers commanded the Marine Detachment, USS Brooklyn, sent to Tangiers, Morocco to address the Perdicaris Incident. Afterward, Major 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. One year later, the Marine Corps ordered Myers to serve aboard 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 after graduating from the Army War College in 1912, Myers assumed command of a battalion with the Second Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A year later he served in command of 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, the Marine Corps appointed Colonel Myers to serve as Inspector General of the Department of the Pacific — serving in that position for three years. In 1925, Myers assumed command of the 1st Marine Brigade in Haiti. Following his service as Commanding General, Department of the Pacific in 1935, with 46 years of adventurous service, Major General Myers retired from active service. In recognition of his distinguished service in 1942, the Marine Corps advanced Jack Myers 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.
15 thoughts on “Handsome Jack of the Marines”
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. 🙂
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.
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…and what a compliment indeed!
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!
Thank you for your comment. Glad you enjoyed it.
Absolutely great story! I was in Olongapo a couple of times. Enough said about that.
I remember a statue of you just outside the Cave Bar.
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!
Actually, General Meyers was married to Alice Cutts Meyers (1874-1963) who came from Mare Island, California.
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!
I’ve been compared to Handsome Jack on many occasions.
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Excellent prose and interesting history as always.