It’s the humility of Stewart Marshall and veterans like him that sticks out like a battle scar across the brow.
It’s also the reason it took more than 70 years to get the man his medals.
“So often it is not the veterans — in fact it’s almost never the veterans who do this, it is friends and family members who start this process — but it’s absolutely critical,” said U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who presented nine honors to the Indian Land resident Tuesday.
Mulvaney, R-Dist. 5, has recognized veterans overdue for service medals everywhere from a Bojangles dining room to the Sun City ballroom where several area military organizations gathered to see and meet Marshall Tuesday afternoon. More than 100 people were there with songs, a flag processional and stories about serving int he Armed Forces . Mulvaney, an Indian Land resident himself, awarded the medals to Stewart, but said the honor is for all veterans when valor is recognized.
“Those storied need to be told again and again and again,” Mulvaney said.
Marshall’s story began in Scotland, where he was born in 1919 and left five years later for New York City. He was drafted and entered the U.S. Army in 1940, earning platoon sergeant status. He served almost 40 months overseas during World War II in northern Africa and Europe.
Liz Williams is writing a book about her own father’s service during the war, and has interviewed more than half a dozen more veterans from the time. She also is part of the Honoring Our Veterans club in Sun City which is compiling an oral history of service for display by Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day.
“He’s an amazing man,” Williams said Tuesday of Marshall, a day after interviewing him for the project. “He just saw so much combat, such extensive combat. Thirty-nine months in north Africa and Italy, that’s a long time.”
Club President Dan Sadvary said, like Mulvaney, he sees many veterans like Marshall whose heroics nearly are lost to history.
“All these guys are just so modest,” Sadvary said. “We’re lucky that they came out of it alive, and yet they’re just so low key. It’s just an honor to have them.”
Marshall has a simple explanation. During war, he wasn’t thinking about medals.
“You just thought you want to get out,” he said. “You want to start a new life again.”
Often at the expense of reporting injuries that may earn a Purple Heart, or actions that may warrant other accolades. Once war ended, Marshall wasn’t interested in rehashing it.
“You feel a little guilt,” he said.
“You’re with a bunch of guys — I had a platoon, our division had 540 days of combat. There’s no such thing as deserving anything out of this, because it’s a job that was needed.”
His highest honors Tuesday came as a result of actions June 1, 1944. He reorganized and led a platoon under fire, turning back three counterattack forces. Marshall recalls his war days and the journals he kept with the name of each soldier he served alongside. He recalls marking off names of soldiers who died. He remembers losing some soldiers so quickly, he hadn’t time to put their names to paper.
Several career moves later he was back in South Carolina, where he had trained for Army service decades earlier. He met a lady selling poppies in front of a retail store, and a conversation led him to a veterans group in Indian Land. He met friend Bill Kennedy, who recognized what he was hearing as the two swapped war stories.
Kennedy realized Marshall was entitled to more honors than he had received. He then realized how important the issue was to Mulvaney.
“I’ve never seen so much action happen so fast,” Kennedy said.
Marshall left Tuesday with the Bronze Star and Army Commendation, Army Good Conduct, American Defense Service, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign (with Silver Service Star) and World War II Victory medals, Combat Infantryman and Marksman (with pistol bar) badges and an Honorable Service lapel button.
A wealth of recognitions for service the soldier — and now others — won’t forget.
“It is a terrible experience,” Marshall said of war, “but it was an experience you never forget.”