John Otho Marsh Jr.
14th United States Secretary of the Army
In office
January 30, 1981 – August 14, 1989
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Preceded byPercy Pierre (Acting)
Succeeded byMichael P. W. Stone
Counselor to the President
In office
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
PresidentGerald Ford
Preceded byAnne Armstrong
Dean Burch
Kenneth Rush
Succeeded byEdwin Meese (1981)
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs
In office
April 17, 1973 – February 15, 1974
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byRady A. Johnson
Succeeded byJohn M. Maury
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th district
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1971
Preceded byBurr Harrison
Succeeded byKenneth Robinson
Personal details
Born(1926-08-07)August 7, 1926
Winchester, Virginia, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4, 2019(2019-02-04) (aged 92)
Raphine, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (Before 1980s)
Republican (1980s–2019)
EducationWashington and Lee University (LLB)
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1944–1947 (Active)
1947–1951 (Reserve)
1951–1976 (Guard)
RankLieutenant Colonel
UnitUnited States Army Reserve
Army National Guard
Battles/warsAllied-occupied Germany
Vietnam War

John Otho Marsh Jr. (August 7, 1926 – February 4, 2019) was an American politician and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.[1][2][3] He served as the United States Secretary of the Army from 1981 to 1989, and as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Virginia from 1963 to 1971.[1][4]

Early life

Marsh was born in Winchester, Virginia. He graduated from Harrisonburg High School in Harrisonburg, Virginia.[5][6] He enlisted in the United States Army in 1944, during World War II, and was selected at age eighteen for Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS) graduating as a second lieutenant of infantry in November 1945, then assigned to the Army of Occupation of Germany where he served from 1946 to 1947.[4][5][7] He was a member of the United States Army Reserve from 1947 to 1951.[5]

Marsh graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1951, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity.[1][5][8] He entered the Army National Guard in Virginia in 1951 and graduated from the Army's Airborne School in 1964.[9] He retired from the army in 1976 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.[5]


Meanwhile, in 1952, Marsh was admitted to the Virginia Bar, and started practicing law in Strasburg, Virginia, where he served as town judge.[5] From 1954 to 1962, he was the town attorney in New Market, Virginia.[5]

United States Representative

He served in the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat from Virginia from 1963 to 1971.[1][2][3][4][5][6][10] He fought in the Vietnam War for a month without telling his fellow soldiers he was a Congressman.[4]

Marsh was the last Democrat to represent this district, which stretched from Winchester through Harrisonburg to Charlottesville. The district, which was the home district of Senators Harry Byrd Sr. and Jr., had been moving away from its Southern Democratic roots for some time; residents had been splitting their tickets since the 1930s even as it continued to elect conservative Democrats like Marsh. As proof of how rapidly the district was trending away from the Democrats, in his first run for the seat, Marsh only defeated Republican challenger J. Kenneth Robinson by 598 votes.

Following Marsh's retirement, Robinson, who by this time represented much of the district's western portion (including the Byrds' home) in the Senate of Virginia, won the seat easily, and the 7th would be held by Republicans until it was dismantled in 1993. Proving just how Republican this district now was, Marsh would be the last Democrat to win even 40 percent of the district's vote before it was dismantled.

Ford cabinet

In 1973, he was appointed as United States Assistant Secretary of Defense, and in January 1974, as National Security Advisor for Vice President Gerald Ford.[1][2][10] Under President Ford, he became Counselor to the President and held Cabinet rank.[1][2][4][6][10] He was seen as one of Ford's top advisers alongside Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld and Philip W. Buchen.[11]

United States Secretary of the Army

From 1981 to 1989, he served as the United States Secretary of the Army under President Ronald Reagan.[1][2][3][4][6]

Of his tenure as the Secretary of the Army, Marsh said "I didn't become Secretary of the Army to go around hangdog and half ashamed, apologizing for the United States Army in Vietnam, because it needed no apologies."[9]

Later career

Marsh was then selected to serve as chairman of the Reserve Forces Policy Board, a position he held from 1989 until 1994.[12] He later served as chairman and interim CEO of Novavax, Inc., a pharmaceutical company.[1][2] He subsequently sat on its board of directors.[13]

Marsh was a confidant of Dick Cheney when the latter was vice president.[10][14]

From 1998 to 1999, Marsh was visiting professor of ethics at the Virginia Military Institute, and adjunct professor of law at The College of William & Mary from 1999 to 2000.[1] At the time of his death in 2019 he was teaching a course on technology, terrorism and national security law at George Mason University.[1][15]

In 2007, when patient conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center had become a national concern, Marsh and former Secretary of the Army Togo West were appointed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to an independent review panel tasked to investigate medical and leadership failures. Among the panel's many recommendations was to close the aging facility and relocate medical services to what was then the National Naval Medical Center located in Bethesda, Maryland.[9][2][16]

Marsh was also a member of the Markle Foundation.[3] The John O. Marsh Institute for Government and Public Policy at Shenandoah University is named for him.[17]

Personal life

Marsh lived in his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, with his wife; they had three children and seven grandchildren.[1] He died on February 4, 2019, of complications from congestive heart failure in Raphine, Virginia, at the age of 92.[18]

Marsh's son, John "Rob" Otho Marsh III (born October 20, 1955), joined the U.S. Army in 1974 and served until 1996 at the rank of Major. Rob was known as medic in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, he and SFC Don Hutchinson were trying to save the mortally wounded MSG Timothy "Griz" Martin, Rob was gravely wounded by a mortar attack on October 6 that killed Sgt. 1st Class Matt Rierson. Rob received the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Meritorious Service Medal. Rob is now a clinic doctor in Middlebrook, Virginia.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k George Mason Law biography Archived October 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Forbes profile". Archived from the original on April 13, 2011. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d MARKLE
  4. ^ a b c d e f Richard Halloran, 'Washington Talk - Working Profile: Army Secretary John O. Marsh Jr.; Military Leader Wins High Ground, Quietly', in The New York Times, January 3, 1989 [1]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Bell, William Gardner (1992). "John Otho Marsh Jr.". Secretaries of War and Secretaries of the Army. United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 70-12. Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d "Congress biography". Archived from the original on August 11, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2011.
  7. ^ "Who We Are". Homeland Security Policy Institute. Archived from the original on July 17, 2013. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
  8. ^ Phi Kappa Psi (1991). Grand Catalogue of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity (13th ed.). Publishing Concepts, Inc. 1991. pp. 252, 585.
  9. ^ a b c "John O. Marsh Jr., presidential 'conscience' and Army secretary, dies at 92". The Washington Post. February 4, 2019. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d Dick Cheney, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, New York, NY: Threshold Editions, 2011, pp. 71–72
  11. ^ Prados, John (2006). Lost Crusader: The Secret Wars of CIA Director William Colby. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512847-5. p. 313
  12. ^ Annual Report of the Reserve Forces Policy Board for 2005 (PDF). Washington, DC: Department of Defense. 2006. p. 9.
  13. ^ Novavax Board of Directors Archived December 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Washington Post Archived December 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ George Mason course Archived May 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ 'Wounds, real and political', in The Washington Times, July 2, 2007 [2]
  17. ^ John O. Marsh Institute
  18. ^ "John O. Marsh Jr., Ex-Army Chief and Presidents' Adviser, Dies at 92". The New York Times. February 4, 2019. Retrieved February 4, 2019.
  19. ^ "Former Delta Force doctor named top rural physician in America". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved February 25, 2020.
U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byBurr Harrison Member of the U.S. House of Representativesfrom Virginia's 7th congressional district 1963–1971 Succeeded byKenneth Robinson Political offices Preceded byRady A. Johnson Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs 1973–1974 Succeeded byJohn M. Maury Preceded byAnne Armstrong Counselor to the President 1974–1977 Served alongside: Robert T. Hartmann, Rogers Morton Succeeded byEd Meese (1981) Preceded byDean Burch Preceded byKenneth Rush Preceded byPercy Pierre(Acting) United States Secretary of the Army 1981–1989 Succeeded byMichael P. W. Stone