Like many in their advanced years, Shanna Marshall finds herself being the caretaker of her World War II hero husband Jack Marshall, 11 years her senior.
Jack has definitely slowed down from a very active life that has spanned 90 years. He is frail and needs help getting up from his easy chair. He naps much and experiences frustration that age has robbed him of his desire to keep going like a freight train.
At a time in which WWII veterans are dying at a rate of about 492 per day, Marshall is one of the few left in Ceres. The National WWII Museum estimates that out of the 16 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces during the war, only about 855,070 remain.
There are numerous Jack Clifford Marshalls, I learned, when I sat down with him in his Ceres home last week. Shanna tried to fill in the blanks as Jack was asked a question and started to answer in his soft, almost hoarse whisper, stopped and brought his hand to his forehead in frustration.
There is the Jack Marshall who was tending cattle at the age of 5 on horseback in his native Idaho.
Then there is the Jack Marshall who survived two of the bloodiest battles against the Japanese as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific Theatre.
There is the Jack Marshall who has spent his life devoted to the Mormon Church and church youth leader.
Jack Marshall, the ambitious businessman who dabbled in business machines and restaurants.
The Jack Marshall, staunch Republican who campaigned with Ronald Reagan when he ran for governor and who ran for state Assembly himself.
Now, the Jack Marshall who struggles to remember details of his life.
The best place to start is at his birth in Venice, Calif., on Nov. 6, 1924, as one of six children of Sarah Clayone Orchard and Clifford P. Marshall. The couple was very poor - so poor that he never received a birthday present until he was an adult.
The family moved to Berkeley for work. When Clifford's dad needed help on the family ranch at a Shoshone/Bannock Indian reservation at Fort Hall, Idaho, the family packed up and moved. Word is told that Jack, then 5, was placed on the back of a horse in the morning and sent out to look after 12 to 15 cows, until the sun started to set behind the hill. He remembers seeing one of the cows stop near the river and disappear into quicksand.
Today, there is a Marshall Road just outside of Fort Hall on Highway 91, named after the family.
Jack stayed behind with his grandparents while his parents headed to San Francisco for work. Jack followed and attended schools in the Bay Area. He found work to help out the family financially, at first plucking thorns off roses at a floral shop until his allergies to gardenias got the best of him. While attending Oakland Tech High School, Jack would work weekends selling peanuts, soda and magazines as a "butch boy" on the train that departed out of Oakland and back. He never knew, until he boarded, if he was headed to Ogden, Utah, or Portland, Ore.
U.S. dragged into WWII
Dec. 7, 1941 changed Jack's life, along with all Americans. The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese ignited a drive among most young men to fight, Jack included. He was only 17 when he decided that he wanted to join the Marines. As he finished up school early at George Washington High School in San Francisco, his mother had to sign for him because he was not an adult yet. He went to San Diego for training, and was off to the Pacific Theatre to fight the Japanese.
"Every boy in his class (1942) left and went into service as soon as it happened and most had to have their moms or dads sign for them," said Shanna.
At the recent Memorial Day observance in Ceres, Jack was emotional as he and Shanna placed a ceremonial buddy poppy on a memorial wreath in memory of a fallen comrade. Jack last saw Art Gagney in battle on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands where the Japanese mowed down 1,200 Americans in 72 hours during Nov. 20-23, 1943. The heavy casualties sparked public protest in the United States, where headline reports of the high losses could not be understood for such a small and seemingly unimportant island. However, Admiral Chester Nimitz said the capture of Tarawa "knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific."
War is ‘hell'
"That was hell," said Jack, who was 18 when he arrived aboard a landing boat, of the battle.
"He's never talked about it," Shanna said. "He was in reconnaissance so on occasion he and another man or maybe by himself, went in to see where the enemy were, what was set up, and then got back to the forces for the best place to attack and enter. And while he was there alone, if anybody ever touched him, it wasn't going to be a friend. To this very day, when he is asleep or if you come up from behind him, you do not touch his hands or his feet."
Jack follows up, saying that it happened that morning as he sat on his porch having breakfast. When an in-home care worker touched him, he grabbed her arm.
Reluctantly, he opened the memory of horrors for me to imagine.
"Show him the knife," Jack tells Shanna.
She disappears into another room and brings out the knife - he was only issued one by the Marines - which he carried while in those two battles. The knife was preferable to a gun, she said, when encountering a Japanese soldier, because it didn't make a noise and wouldn't draw attention of the enemy.
I asked Jack if any Japanese ever got too close to him.
"Oh yes," he answered.
"Did you have to ...?" I pressed.
Before I could finish the question he cuts me off, saying "yes." He doesn't want to be reminded that he had to kill.
Jack also fought in the 82-day-long Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, serving as a recon man. The battle, which went from early April to mid-June 1945, saw Japanese casualties of 77,166 and 14,009 Allied troops killed.
The phone rings for Shanna and she excuses herself. Jack abruptly tells me that "what you're doing to me ... I don't like it." He's referring to questions about the war.
Shanna interjects that no one but the warrior can know what their war experiences were like.
"We go to a movie, we hear all the noise, we see all this stuff, in two hours it's over and we go home. It didn't stop with them. They were in it. They were the ones with the pack on their back and running for their lives. They were the ones who took a bath in their helmet - if they could get that much water - and things like that that we cannot even imagine."
Service in China
After Tarawa, the end of his Marine service had Jack assigned to China for nine months. Marshall witnessed some horrific acts of punishment committed by Chinese authorities. Criminals would be punished in the town square, with thieves having their hand cut off, or other have their legs or heads cut off.
"None of us knew," said Jack when asked what offense warranted a beheading. "That's still happening."
Bay area businessman
After his discharge in May 1946, Jack headed back to the Bay Area. He learned the trade of making and repairing watches in Alameda. He opened his own jewelry store, and then a restaurant. He also acquired Clary Business Machine Agency. At one time he had the largest order for typewriters in the Bay Area. Computers came out and destroyed the business machine industry. Jack remembers ordering for a customer a computer - all big and boxy - for $25,000.
His first marriage to Doris Clare Jackson - a truck driver he met while serving in the Marines - produced four children. Bill lives in Woodland Hills, Utah, Corrin in Ceres, Jean in Herriman, Utah, and Janet in Colorado. The marriage ended in divorce.
With his second wife, Patricia, he opened an ice cream parlor in Santa Barbara. She died and he became a contractor and land developer.
Jack also got involved in California Republican politics. He served as vice president of the California Republican Assembly. He accompanied Ronald Reagan on a number of campaign stops. Then in 1972, Jack unsuccessfully ran for the state Assembly in the district that included Walnut Creek
Shanna & Mormon faith
Jack spent many years alone - until he met Shanna, who was born in Roosevelt, Utah, in 1935. Her dad was a school teacher in Utah and decided to take a $1,800 per year teaching position At Central Union High School in Fresno when Shanna turned five. The school named an ag department wing after him, Walter Atwood.
Shanna taught elementary school in Fresno, San Diego and Los Angeles before becoming a master food preserver with the University of California. She served as a 12-year director of the Family Center at a West Fresno Mormon Church.
Their Mormon faith brought Jack and Shanna together, literally through the building of the Fresno temple; Shanna and Jack met during the construction. She was an office supervisor and Jack was assisting training all temple workers. Shanna was 65 and Jack was 76.
"Neither one of us liked to be alone and, of course, we were both active in the church and that makes a big difference because the Mormons are that way," said Shanna. She never thought she would remarry after losing her first husband after 24 years of marriage and losing her second husband after 17 years of marriage, both to death.
Before they were married on November of 2000, Jack had moved from Hollister to Ceres to be close to daughter Corrin. Shanna was living in Fresno.
Shanna says the marriage has been "very interesting." She said they knew a lot about each other's character since they both met the standards to be involved in the Mormon temple work.
"We probably knew 50 percent about each other just by that activity - but there are always surprises," said Shanna.
Jack believes that his work with youth for over 30 years helped him reach 90 - an age where he is no longer active, not even painting himself as Ajax the clown or dressing up like Santa to cheer up kids and those in nursing homes alike. Nor do neither of them volunteer as docents anymore at the McHenry Museum.
"I'm slowing down," he says, almost breathlessly, in an afternoon drowsiness. "And you know what? I don't like it."
But as long as they have breath, both Jack and Shanna will do their best to serve others.
"We're always kind of taught in the church to serve and to think of others. If you think of others, you don't have such a bad time yourself. You tend to be happier, too."