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Remembering Ex-Army Sec. Jack Marsh: The Quiet Virginia Patriot

Remembering Ex-Army Sec. Jack Marsh: The  Quiet Virginia Patriot
Jack Marsh in 2007 (AP)

Thursday, 07 February 2019 06:01 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The death of John O. Marsh Jr.—former Democrat congressman from Virginia and Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Army—on Feb. 4 evoked a lot of official memories in Washington.

Marsh, 92, also was a top official in the administrations of Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.  He went on to become the nation’s longest-serving civilian head of the U.S. Army (eight years and six months), working closely with President Reagan and his two secretaries of defense to rebuild the Army. 

But for all the high positions he held and circles he moved in, “Jack” Marsh always remained the soft-spoken and humble country boy from the Old Dominion State’s Shenandoah Valley.  He always called himself a “country lawyer” and was modest about his service to his country.

As a sitting congressman during the height of the Vietnam War, Marsh volunteered for a 30-day tour of duty with the National Guard.  As a major, he was detailed to the highlands of Vietnam.  Not once did Marsh tell any of the men in his unit he was a member of Congress.

This stint reinforced Marsh’s strongly-held opinion that the U.S. should have gone for an all-out victory in Vietnam.

But this was just a part of service to country with which Marsh had grown up. After finishing high school at 18, he joined the Army, graduated from Infantry Officer Training School as a lieutenant at 19, and served in the U.S. occupation of Germany.

He earned a law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1951, and went on to serve as town judge of Strasburg and town attorney of nearby New Market.  The young Marsh also joined the National Guard and earned his Senior Parachutist Wings at Army Airborne School.

When veteran Democratic Rep. Burr Harrison stepped down in 1962, Marsh announced for his open seat.  He had a major asset in the Democratic primary--the endorsement of fellow conservative Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia and his powerful “Byrd Machine” and won easily. 

Like Byrd and most Southern Democrats in Congress in the early 1960’s, Marsh supported school segregation, and opposed Medicare, civil rights, and federal aid to education.

By 1970’s, liberal Democrats had taken over the party in Virginia and required a “loyalty oath.”

“They required candidates to sign an oath that they would support the national ticket, which I refused to do,” Marsh later recalled, “I was not putting up with that!”

He chose not to seek re-election in 1970.  Three years later, President Nixon tapped him to be assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs.  When old friend and House colleague Gerald Ford became vice president in 1974, Marsh became his national security advisor.

Under President Ford, Marsh had the title of counselor and was one of the top aides to the new man in the Oval Office.  In that capacity, he dealt with a variety of issues—most notably, Ford’s pardon of former President Nixon for any crimes he committed. 

Marsh later said he felt he had convinced Ford not to pardon Nixon.  But on September 8, 1974, Ford did just that.  Marsh never held the decision against him and, years later, said he felt history would be kind to Ford for “steadying the American ship of state.”

At Ford’s strong urging, Reagan appointed Marsh secretary of the army.  Over the next eight years, he oversaw an increase in the Army budget by 30 percent and the addition of more than 14,000 women to the service branch. 

“Jack later served on the terrorism commission with me,” former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore told Newsmax, “He was a great leader and a great Virginian.”

Rather than become a well-heeled lobbyist or write a book, Jack Marsh concluded his public career by returning to the “Apple Country” of his youth and again become a “country lawyer”—to the end, a quiet patriot from Virginia. 

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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The death of John O. Marsh Jr.-former Democrat congressman from Virginia and Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Army-on Feb. 4 evoked a lot of official memories in Washington.
Thursday, 07 February 2019 06:01 AM
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