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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Marshall Lee King
1924-1945

"United in this determination and with unshakable faith in the cause for which we fight, we will, with God's help, go forward to our greatest victory."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1944

Private First Class Marshall Lee King was born on July 5, 1924, in Coalwood, McDowell County, to parents Ezra Lee King and Anna Spencer King. His father, Ezra, thirty-one years old at the time, was born in rural Virginia in 1893. Growing up, Ezra worked on his family’s farm and never received any formal education, but was taught to read and write by a family member. Marshall’s mother, Anna, born in 1904 in Pennsylvania as Anna Spencer, was eleven years younger than her husband; the two married when she was fifteen and he was twenty-six, and she was only twenty when Marshall was born. Anna, similar to her husband, never attended school as a child. King grew up as part of large family, common in the region at the time. He had two brothers, Bobby and Dennis, and six sisters, Catharine, Shirley, Dorothy, Madeline, Barbara, and Marcella. A decade younger than Marshall, Bobby followed in his footsteps by joining the military; Bobby served as a private first class in the U.S. Army. (Sources for family information include Find A Grave memorials for Anna L. King and Bobby Gene King, as well as 1930 Federal Census records.)

Not long after Marshall’s birth, the family relocated to Low Gap in Boone County, West Virginia, where King is now buried. All of the children were expected to help their parents run the family farm; for this reason, the King children followed their parents’ example and had little to no formal schooling. The Great Depression hurt the King family’s ability to make a living through farming, and Ezra was forced to find more lucrative work at the nearby Spruce River Coal Company, where he was working in 1942 at the time of his World War II draft registration, when older men were required to register. Very few records exist pertaining to Marshall’s childhood prior to his entering the service in the early forties. He was killed in action on May 19, 1945, at Okinawa, at the age of twenty-one.

King grew up in southern West Virginia’s coal country, an area dominated politically by increasingly profitable coal companies taking advantage of the abundance of the resource, especially as a result of the energy needs of World War II. Because of this, population fluctuated in this region depending on the jobs in coal at the time. In the 1920s the largely coal-based town of Low Gap, where King grew up, was home to few people, but the economy was strong, a microcosm of post-wartime America (World War I) as a whole.

In the 1930s, there was little growth in the region because of the Depression, which had a profound effect on the entire country. In the 1940s, the area grew in population as opportunities for employment in coal abounded; World War II ended the Depression in America by creating employment, even in King’s rural Appalachia. The entire state of West Virginia was very similar to King’s hometown during the years of World War II. Population grew with record employment in local coal mines. Coalwood, King’s birthplace, would be the future home of Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys, who were born during King’s military service; their story is illustrative of coal’s dominance over life in the region, even in the years after World War II. During the war, in not only West Virginia, but in the entire country, there was a rationing of necessities to aid the American troops and allies, and there was growth in opportunities for female employment in the prosperous wartime economy, as evidenced in the preponderance of Rosie the Riveters.

Private King served an important purpose in World War II, as did every person who served for the U.S. military. King was part of the 6th Marine Infantry Division. This unit in particular was responsible for the capture of Okinawa. The division was responsible for the capture of the Yontan Airfield while protecting the North Flank and also replaced the Army’s 27th Infantry on the western flank.
Insignia of 6th Marine Division

Insignia of 6th Marine Division

The 6th Marine Division comes ashore in Okinawa

The 6th Marine Division comes ashore in Okinawa. Courtesy National Park Service (National Archives photo No. 39573 – FMC)

Marshall Lee King and his fellow Marines landed in Okinawa on April 1, 1945. By the 14th of April, they had swept through the north Ishikawa Islands and advanced south to partake in an assault against the Japanese defensive line. The unit encountered heavy fighting at Sugar Loaf that resulted in over five hundred casualties on May 16th. Although the 16th was one of the most brutal days of the battle, fighting continues as the unit tried to work its way past the Shuri defenses.

King died bravely while fighting on May 19, 1945. Because of his valiant fighting, King received the Purple Heart, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Medal. Also in acknowledgment off his “courageous action and dedicated service to his country,” Low Gap Bridge in Boone County, West Virginia, was renamed the “USMC PFC Marshall Lee King Bridge.”

The overall attack on the Ryukyu Islands erased the hope of the Japanese that they could avert an attack on the home islands. These islands were very well defended with extensive cave networks that proved difficult for American military strategy. As a result, bravery from the American troops on the squad, platoon, and individual soldier level led to the overall victory of the attack. The Ryukyu campaign was the last for American soldiers in World War II. The campaign not only provided a strategic base for the American military, but also gave a made a huge leap in defeating the Japanese. As the one of the major battles in the whole Pacific Theater of War, the battle can be remembered as a last push before the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and also as a summation of American military prowess in forcing the Japanese into defeat. It might be said that the capture of Okinawa paved the way for the surrender of Japan. Because there was no attack on the Japanese mainland with troops, essentially the battle of Okinawa was the last main battle in the Pacific Theater.

It is likely that Marshall Lee King was originally buried near where he fell. However, his remains were relocated, and on May 1, 1949 he was buried at Allen Cemetery in his hometown of Low Gap in Boone County.
Grave marker

Grave marker for Pfc. Marshall Lee King in Allen Cemetery. Courtesy Jenine Kimbler, Find A Grave, accessed 31 May 2016

Article prepared by Will Cooke, Stephen Baek, and Jay Sheth, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2016

Honor...

Marshall Lee King

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