John “Jack” Otto Marsh Jr., who died Feb. 4 at 92, was buried Friday at the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, a site he first visited in 1935 at 9 years old.
In the 84 years since that visit, Marsh served the longest tenure as secretary of the Army from 1981 to 1989. He was President Gerald Ford’s counselor and was a congressman.
Marsh also enlisted in the Army to serve in World War II, declining a congressional appointment to West Point.
Born in Winchester and raised in Harrisonburg, Marsh had a Strasburg law firm, served as New Market’s town attorney and as a Shenandoah County School Board member.
Chaplain Robert Phillips said that Marsh “was ready to go” during his last days and showed no fear, angst or “uncertainty of the unknown.”
“He had accomplished all of the things he wanted to accomplish, he had made his impact, he had peace with his God, and he was ready to go,” he said.
Despite the long list of accolades, Marsh’s grandson, Capt. Adam Marsh said that “to our family, his greatest accomplishment is that as a grandfather.”
Although Marsh declined being called grandfather because it made him feel antiquated, Adam Marsh said “Jack whole-heartedly took up the position of grandfather” and “made it clear to us that he was proud of us as long as we were pursuing something to the best of our ability.”
Dr. Gregory Saathhoff noted that Marsh served as a mentor to many and illustrated that “to think out of the box you have to first know the box,” which could be accomplished through “thousands of hours of observation and by forming “trusting and brotherly” relationships.
Using those principles, Saathhoff said Marsh decoded and opened the boxes of Congress, the White House and the Pentagon.
One person with whom Marsh formed one of those tight relationships was Vice President Dick Cheney, who said before the funeral that “he was one of my favorite people” and that they were able to get along despite differing political parties.
The two met on the first day of Ford’s presidency and went on to share what Cheney said were “some very interesting times” as they had neighboring offices as cabinet members.
Cheney said some of Marsh’s admirable qualities were a love for the Army, in-depth knowledge of history and the ability to rise above partisanship. He said that Marsh was the epitome of a patriotic American, loyal soldier and successful statesman.
Like Cheney, speakers during the funeral noted Marsh’s love for history.
Adam Marsh said his grandfather had an “unparalleled storytelling ability” and trips down Interstate 81 would turn into “an impromptu history lesson.”
“With Jack’s love of history, he instilled in us a respect for the value and history of our family as well as an appreciation for the importance of the impact that we would individually leave on this world,” Adam Marsh said.
Col. Keith Gibson said Marsh illustrated that thirst for history during the visit he made as a 9-year-old to the battlefield. Marsh and his mother visited the Bushong farm and met members of the family, who shared stories about cadets that captivated him.
“For that young boy, the battle was more than a booming cannon and clashing sabers. For Jack Marsh, the battle was a demonstration of the most vital elements of character and human conduct, public service, duty, integrity, selflessness,” he said.
Gibson added that Marsh never forgot those lessons and became the epitome of those traits long after that first visit.
He said a burial at the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park is an “unprecedented occurrence” and unlikely to be repeated, adding that it is also unlikely that the relationship Marsh had with the battlefield and the Shenandoah Valley will be replicated.