John O. Marsh, Law Class of 1951 – Great American Military Statesman

John Otho Marsh Jr. died earlier this month at age 92. His life in service to his country has few equals. It includes Army service with post-World War II occupation forces; Army Reserve service in Vietnam (while serving in the U. S. Congress!); presidential adviser, in which capacity he was called “the president’s conscience;” longest serving Army Secretary; and the list continues. (See details in the University’s obituary  or any of the many newspaper obits like this one in the Washington Post.)

One could be excused for assuming that Jack Marsh was an alumnus of the Virginia Military Institute. He came to love and serve VMI so much, that he was one of the very few to be named an Honorary Cadet. He taught there as a Visiting Professor of Ethics. He obtained special permission to be buried in its Hall of Valor, adjacent to the  New Market Battlefield where VMI students fought and died during the Civil War. His papers will pass to the VMI Archives. Above all, his life was lived in the mold of VMI’s most famous alumnus, the great soldier-statesman, George C. Marshall, whose namesake medal is among Marsh’s many awards.

In fact, Marsh’s unusual higher education journey brought him to our law school. He was born in Winchester, Virgina in 1926 and, his public service years aside, lived there, in Harrisonburg or elsewhere in the Shenandoah Valley. He joined the U.S. Army in 1944, just after graduation from Harrisonburg High School. By age 19, he was an Officer Candidate School graduate.

Above, Washington and Lee University School of Law Class of August 1951. Marsh is sixth from left, in front of white door.


On leaving the Army in 1947, he used his GI Bill benefit to enter Washington and Lee University as an undergraduate. With some credits earned at Madison College, getting PE credits from his time in military service, and after three semesters and one summer session as a student in the college, he took up the study of law.

At that time, the educational requirement for admission to the W&L School of Law was two years of college. He took advantage of this, entered the law school, and graduated with the law class of 1951 in August at the end of the law summer session. He began the practice of law immediately and continued in that profession until his first election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1963.

Wherever his strongest academic institutional affections laid, we are proud to claim him as an alumnus of the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Washington and Lee University Registrar, Scott Dittman, provided invaluable assistance for this post.