Former Army Secretary John O. Marsh Jr. ’51L Dies at 92
John Otho Marsh Jr., a member of the School of Law Class of 1951 who served as Secretary of the Army in the 1980s, died on Feb. 4 at an assisted living facility in Raphine, Va. He was 92.
A native of Harrisonburg, Va., Marsh enlisted in the Army out of high school and served as a lieutenant with American occupation forces in postwar Germany.
He entered W&L as an undergraduate in September 1947 with transfer credits from Madison College (now James Madison University). He took undergraduate classes through 1947-1948, including the summer and fall of 1948. In the spring of 1949, he was admitted to the School of Law as a second-year, or intermediate, student. He completed the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) and graduated in August 1959.
While at W&L, Marsh was active in numerous campus activities. He was a member of Phi Kappa Psi, served on the Assimilation Committee, ran track and cross country, and was a member of the Cotillion Club and Fancy Dress.
After being admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1952, Marsh practiced law in Strasburg, Va., serving as town judge. From 1954 to 1962, he was the town attorney in New Market, Va.
Marsh won election to the U.S. House of Representative as a Democrat from Virginia in 1963 and served until 1971. While serving as in the House in 1966, he volunteered for a month-long stint in the Vietnam War as part of his National Guard duty without ever telling his fellow soldiers that he was a Congressman.
In 1973, Marsh was appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense and, in January 1974, as National Security Advisor for Vice President Gerald Ford. He was considered one of Ford’s top aides. Among other duties, Ford appointed Marsh to an investigative committee that studied CIA abuses, including illegal domestic spying.
Marsh switched political parties in about 1980 and served two terms as Secretary of the Army under Reagan, which made him what the Washington Post described as “the longest-serving civilian administrative leader in modern times.”
Marsh helped deploy Pershing II missiles to Western Europe, increased the Army’s budget, and was credited with maintaining several crucial elements that were instrumental in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
From 1989 to 1994, Marsh served as Chairman of the Reserve Forces Policy Board and was also Chairman and interim CEO of Novavax, a pharmaceutical company.
In 2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appointed Marsh and former Secretary of the Army Togo West to an independent review panel to investigate medical and leadership failures at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
He was six times the recipient of the Department of Defense Public Service Award. He also earned the Presidential Citizens Medal and was decorated by the governments of France and Brazil. Other honors include Virginian of the Year (as awarded by the Virginia Press Association), the George Catlett Marshall Medal for Public Service, and the Harry F. Byrd Jr. Public Service Award. The National Guard Armory in Strasburg also was named in his honor.
Marsh will be interred in the Hall of Valor in New Market, Va.