July 4, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
I typed the name, as I had numerous times before without success, into my computer and hit the search key. I expected nothing, but in a matter of seconds there it was: The citation for a Silver Star awarded to Raymond N. Marshall.
Raymond Marshall was my father’s brother, the uncle I knew only through stories and pictures. A Marine platoon sergeant, he died a hero on March 5, 1945, in the climactic World War II battle of Iwo Jima.
The story was on my computer screen.
“… Platoon Sergeant Marshall remained undaunted in the face of a terrific concentration of Japanese fire which pinned his unit down in a forward position at a time when ammunition supplies were perilously low following a forced drive of approximately one hundred yards across an open area against uninterrupted enemy gunfire. Acting on his own initiative in this crisis, Platoon Sergeant Marshall fearlessly made his way back alone across the fire-swept field four separate times to obtain the urgently needed ammunition, and then, organizing and directing a four-man volunteer detail, including himself, effected four additional crossings of the exposed terrain before he fell, instantly killed by an enemy mortar shell.
“By his valiant and self-sacrificing efforts, Platoon Sergeant Marshall provided a steady flow of ammunition, thereby enabling his platoon to hold its hard-won position. His courageous conduct and devotion to duty in the face of extreme peril upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
He was 27 years old.
It was fascinating to read the description of my uncle’s heroism, because it was almost exactly the same as the story I was told from the time I was a little boy. I can remember my uncle’s wife coming to visit us when I was young. Many years later, when I was sports editor of The Montgomery Advertiser, she came through on a tour and called me. We visited for a long time on a very special day.
Until he died too young 24 years later, my father, who during the war was an Army Air Corps communications officer stationed in Sicily, never stopped feeling the loss of his brother. Their parents died when they were young. Just more than a year apart in age, they relied on each other in good times and bad. My father was on the other side of the world when he got the news that his brother was dead.
I asked my father once what he did when he got the news. He told me he walked alone for hours, almost until dawn. There was sadness in his voice even then. And there was pride.
For 237 years, from Bunker Hill to Afghanistan, American parents, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and children have heard the awful words. “We regret to inform you …”
My uncle and all the others who paid the ultimate price helped make it possible for all of us and generations to come to celebrate on Independence Day, to laugh and to love, to live our lives in a country that, for all its warts, nurtures us all.
Today, I’ll enjoy spending time with my family. And I’ll pause to remember the sacrifices of my uncle and so many others who gave everything to make it possible.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: