One man’s personal story of valor
By Cynthia Gibson | OW Contributing Writer
One hundred and fifty-eight years ago, newly freed Blacks exhumed remains of 257 Union soldiers buried in a mass grave by Confederate soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina. They reinterred the bodies in a new cemetery and decorated the graves with flags and flowers.
On that first ‘Decoration Day,” a crowd of 10,000 formerly enslaved Blacks with some White missionaries staged a parade around the track with 3,000 school children, members of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Black ministers and others to pay tribute to the fallen Union soldiers.
Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day in 1971 to honor all American troops, not just those from the Civil War.
Like the formerly enslaved people honored Union soldiers on what is now considered the first Memorial Day in 1865, the lives and contributions of Blacks in military service should be acknowledged and honored.
A lasting legacy
From an early age, Marcus Allen Tynes knew what he wanted. His goal was to be a SWAT officer and, ultimately, a police detective. In high school he was a Police Explorer and enjoyed police ride-alongs, working parade duty and attending community events.
After graduating from high school, Marcus’ plan was to spend three years in the military and use the experience to catapult him into the police academy at age 21. He also thought the military would be a great way to serve his country.
Marcus’ father, Bruce Atlas, noticed a huge difference in his son when he returned from boot camp and training for the Army’s 82nd Airborne. “I thought, ‘Who is this kid? What did they do with my son?’ “ Atlas joked. “ He was saying ‘no sir’ and ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am,’ and cleaning his room and making his bed.”
Marcus shipped out to Afghanistan on his father’s birthday, Sept. 1, 2009. Two months later on November 22, Marcus was killed while on patrol with his fellow officer when their Humvee drove over an explosive device in Zabul, Afghanistan. He was 19 years old.
“That was probably the worst day of my life,” Atlas said. “Especially, the moment I had to break the news to my wife.”
Atlas founded the nonprofit Marcus’ Heart Foundation (MHF) as a way to process his grief. He also hoped it would be a distraction for his wife, Dana, who was having a difficult time dealing with Marcus’ death. MHF mentors youth while they are in the crossroad of decisions for their future. The foundation provides support to seniors in high school that have met the organization’s scholarship requirements and have been accepted into academic institutions of higher learning. MHF also provides support and guidance to soldiers experiencing challenges while transitioning to civilian life.
“We wanted to turn this tragedy to triumph and then create a legacy in Marcus’ name so that people will remember his contribution and the sacrifice that he made for the country,” Atlas said. “It’s our hope that through the foundation, long after we’re gone, kids will have a conversation and say ‘well, how did you make it through college?’ People will say,’ I had a Marcus’ Heart Foundation scholarship.’ “
For donations and volunteer opportunities, visit marcussheartfoundation.org.
A blessing in disguise
Marion Anthony “Tony” Marshall had no aspirations to be in the military. He did, however, want to learn how to fly. In 1968, with the mandatory army draft staring him in the face, he opted to voluntarily go into the Air Force. It turned out to be the career of a lifetime.
Marshall was accepted by the US Air Force Academy and graduated in 1968. He completed Navigator training and Electronic Warfare Training and was assigned to the F-4 fighter aircraft. On his 266th mission he was forced to eject over enemy territory and was captured. A Captain at the time, Marshall was held as a POW from July 3, 1972 until his release on March 29, 1973.
“I was not injured and they treated us reasonably well. It was at the end of the war and the Vietnamese government wanted to be able to do a prisoner exchange with people who had not been mistreated,” Marshall said.
Before his capture, Marshall was a flight navigator. His numerous attempts at getting pilot training were repeatedly rebuffed. Upon his release as a POW, Marshall was at last able to get the flight training he had been waiting for.
“I guess you could say it was a blessing in disguise,” Marshall said. “I finally got to be in the front seat, controlling my own destiny.”
He went on to fly for the next 22 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel, Command Pilot, with 480 hours of combat time, 3000 hours in the F-4, and 3600 hours total military flying time. His military awards include 4 Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and 16 Air Medals.
Following his retirement from active duty in 1990, Marshall was hired by United Airlines and logged 12,000 hours flying the DC10, B747, and A320 aircraft out of Los Angeles. He retired from United in December 2006.
Marshall volunteers as a mentor at the Academy for Academic Excellence in Apple Valley, Millionaire Mind Kids in Victorville, Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Compton, and is the president of the California Chapter of Shades of Blue, where he works with the next generation of airline pilots and aviation professionals.