“You didn’t have time to get scared,” Marshall said. “You didn’t know if you got shot or not until it was too late”
But the U.S. Air Force veteran fighting in World War II and serving from 1942 to 1946 never seemed more eager to board a plane than he did this past week.
Marshall, 90, traveled to Washington, D.C., on an Honor Flight trip. At no cost, Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization, primarily transports World War II veterans to the nation’s capital to see memorials honoring them.
Marshall finally saw the World War II Memorial, commemorating 16 million U.S. armed forces who fought in this war.
The memorial also pays homage to the 300,000 or so American soldiers who died in battle.
“It was great,” Marshall said during a recent interview with family members in his Sandusky home. “When I looked at the names, I felt very sad. I realized that I came home and they didn’t” History lesson
Marshall, who attended Sandusky High School in the early 1940s, left midway through his senior year to enlist into the military. His mother, Esther, later accepted Marshall’s diploma on his behalf.
“This gave me an opportunity to fly and gave me an opportunity to do what I wanted to do, and that was to be a part of the Air Force,” Marshall said.
Flying over Germany, France, Belgium and Holland, Marshall and a squad of 11 other courageous fighter pilots sought out enemy airfields. The pilots, zipping upwards of 400 mph, also targeted enemy ships and trucks transporting Axis cargo.
“We attacked anything that moved,” Marshall said. “I was always happy on the way back to our airbase because I knew we made it”
Marshall, also known as “Basher,” discovered the Axis powers surrendered — clinching a crucial Allies victory — while stillfighting in Germany.
“When they told us they dropped the bombs, we didn’t know what they were talking about,” Marshall recalled.
“We were told the war will be over soon, but we were still getting shot at. We fought because Hitler thought he was going to take over our country, and we didn’t want him over (in the U.S.). So we went over there”
Luckily, Marshall never received a gunshot or bullet wound.
“But I did have 34 bullet holes underneath my plane where I was sitting, by the gas tank, (during one mission) but none of them came up” Marshall said.
Marshall also engaged in a brief conversation with a celebrity during his time overseas.
“I met Bob Hope” Marshall said. “I didn’t know who he was at first. He grabbed my oxygen mask, and I said something nasty to him. He then asked me to take him up in my plane. I said, ‘You would have to sit on my lap’ I also didn’t want to take him up because I didn’t want to have to be the guy that could have killed Bob Hope”
Respecting a war hero
Marshall knew he’d appreciate seeing the memorial upon embarking on the recent trip. And he did.
“It was great” Marshall said.
But the one-day journey became special for another reason.
When in the airport, either in Cleveland or Baltimore, or somewhere on the ground around Washington, D.C., dozens of people constantly approached Marshall.
“At the gate, when all the veterans were in their wheelchairs, people just stood up, cheered and clapped,” Marshall’s daughter Anne McGookey said. McGookey accompanied Marshall.
“One by one, people would come up and say, ‘Thank you for your service’ to my dad,” McGookey said. “Kids came up to take pictures with him. It was extremely emotional for me to see how many people respect and appreciate what these veterans did. It was the most incredible thing I have ever seen”
Much attention will be given to veterans today, as the nation honors the hundreds of thousands of military personnel dying in various wars.
When asked what Memorial Day means to him, Marshall smiled and paused for a moment before saying, “Thank God I’m home. Icame home to do what I wanted to do.”
Here’s the short list of Marshall’s most important life accomplishments: After coming back to Sandusky, Marshall worked for Ohio Edison in Sandusky for about 40 years. He remained in the reserves for about 20 years. He named his plane after his first wife, Natalie, who died in 1998. The pair were married for 50 years. He has four children and eight grandchildren.
“I’ve had a good life,” Marshall said. “And it’s still good after 90 years”