The Motorcycle Marines: An Illustrated Historybook63[1]

by SSGT Jack M. Sands, U.S.M.C. (Ret)

31 pages, $14.00

Revised Second Edition Portrayal Press, reprinted 2002

by Sev Pearman

As we go to press, our nation’s armed forces are hard at work in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. The Marine Corps is usually the first branch to be deployed on foreign soil. MMM selected The Motorcycle Marines – An Illustrated History as a tribute to those folks who would rather be home enjoying their own motorcycles.

Jack Sands is a retired U.S. Marine who ended his career in 1962. In Motorcycle Marines, he has collected anecdotes, statistics and photographs to tell the history of motorcycle usage in the United States Marine Corps from the turn of the last century to 1984.

The author weaves Marine Corps statistics with soldier’s accounts starting from the early 1900’s. During the First World War, tens of thousands of motorcycles were ordered by the armed forces. Of these 41,000 were Indians 15,000 were Harley-Davidsons and a lesser number were Excelsiors and Clevelands. Marines depended on these motorcycles for courier and convoy duties. While under artillery and gas attack near Vierzy France, Lt. Joel Boone used his motorcycle to obtain medical supplies so that he could treat wounded Marines. His exploits would later earn him the Medal of Honor.

The section covering the World War Two has many never-before-published stories and illustrations. Jon Kelly’s December 7th sketch of a Marine transporting a wounded soldier at Pearl Harbor is as grim as it is sparse. The author relates the story of Harley Davidsons manufactured in Japan under license from the factory. Going back as far as 1929, the agreement ended in 1935 with the coming war. The Japanese renamed this bike the Rikuo or “Continent King” and continued production until the end of the war. One fact we had never seen printed was as early as October 1940, Marines of the 1st Division were trained in the operation of German, Japanese and American motorcycles, a full fourteen months before our entry into the war.

Even with the 2002 revision, Motorcycle Marines falls short. There is no mention of either the mid-90’s NATO-spec. Harley-Davidson Rotax powered 600 single (test-ridden by MMM*) or the up-to-date heavily modified Kawasaki KLR 650s, converted to run on diesel! (The KLRs were commissioned by the U.S. Marines as part of NATO’s current “one fuel, one battlefield” policy.) MMM hopes the author is working on a third edition.

Despite these omissions, Mr. Sands has written one dense little monograph. The H-D faithful, History Channel geeks and war historians will be delighted. Motorcycle Marines is awarded three out of four stars with a salute soldier.



Hard-liner–Detailed, personal accounts of real soldiers and their mounts.

Veteran–Excellent period photos leave you wanting more.

Grunt–“Where’s my diesel KLR 650?”


* MMM thanks Louis Cypher for the H-D Rotax test-ride in 1999.



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