Fifty years ago, General George Catlett Marshall returned to his hometown for his biggest public visit since the Uniontown native left in 1903 to embark on his career as a newly commissioned lieutenant in the Army. Retired from a distinguished career and soon to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, Marshall, 72, came to Uniontown Sept. 21-23, 1953, to see local sights, visit with friends and meet with students and local officials.
Marshall told Evening Standard reporter Walter J. "Buzz' Storey, "I was quite familiar with this region and I wanted Mrs. Marshall, in particular, to see it.'
Sitting in his Uniontown living room, Storey, now retired as an editor for the Herald-Standard and known as a local historian, recalled Marshall saying, "He wanted to show his wife the scenes of his youthful days, where he got into trouble as a kid.'
Storey, then 31, worked for the Evening Standard, an afternoon newspaper that would eventually be combined with the Morning Herald to make the present-day Herald-Standard. He was assigned to cover Marshall during his public appearances over these two days.
Marshall, who was living in Leesburg, Va., made the drive to Pennsylvania with his wife, Katherine. He made speeches, shook hands and became reacquainted with the folks in Uniontown. Nothing earth shattering, but Storey still treasures those moments he spent in Marshall's company.
"It was no big hot story, but to me it was one of the highlights of my professional life,' said Storey. "I remember every incident.'
When he came to Uniontown in 1953, Marshall was retired from a career of public service that included being Army Chief of Staff during World War II, Secretary of State, president of the American Red Cross and Secretary of Defense. He was soon to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace for his economic recovery plan for Europe following World War II that was named The Marshall Plan in his honor.
Uniontown was impressed with its native son and Marshall kept fond memories of Uniontown throughout his lifetime.
Marshall was born in Uniontown Dec. 31, 1880, in a two-story house on West Main Street. The house was later torn down and the West End Theater constructed. It is now the home of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 47. A historical marker marks the spot.
Marshall was the youngest of three children born to Laura and George C. Marshall Sr. He had a brother, Stuart, and a sister, Marie. His father was a coal and coke operator.
Marshall attended Miss Alcinda Thompson's private school and spent one year at the public Central School. He attended Virginia Military Institute, graduating with the Class of 1901. He received a commission into the Army and took his oath in Uniontown in February 1902.
In his book, "Another Look: Uniontown and Fayette County,' Storey wrote that Marshall made at least six visits to Uniontown after embarking on his military career that are documented by his biographer Forrest Pogue. Storey noted there could have been other brief visits.
"Another Look' records Marshall's known visits. His first visit back was in 1905 when he received a four-month leave from duty in Texas. He came with his first wife, Lily, whom he married on Feb. 11, 1902, in Lexington, Va. Marshall visited again in 1909 while on duty with the Pennsylvania National Guard in Somerset.
In 1937, soon after he received the second star of a major general, Marshall and his second wife, Katherine, came to Uniontown from Chicago where he had been serving with the Illinois National Guard. Lily had died in 1927 and Marshall remarried in 1930.
In September 1939, some 10,000 people greeted Marshall when he flew into Connellsville Airport as the newly installed Army chief of staff.
But the 1953 visit is the one in which Marshall spent the most time in public events.
He came into town quietly.
Storey remembered, "There were no bands or parades.'
Marshall drove his own car from his home in Leesburg, Va., Storey recalled. The car was nothing fancy. Marshall had no chauffeur.
The couple stayed at the White Swan Hotel on Main Street, located not far from the site of Marshall's boyhood home.
On the morning of Sept. 21, Marshall took his wife to Ohiopyle to see the falls and then drove to Fort Necessity where the couple met up with Storey.
At the fort, Marshall also conversed with a team of archaeologists, led by famed Jean Carl Harrington, who had earlier that year discovered that the fort was actually round instead of square. Harrington is considered a pioneer in the field of historical archaeology, and also performed work at Jamestown, Va., and Fort Raleigh, N.C. He helped found the Society for Historical Archaeologists,.
"He talked with Marshall and me,' remembered Storey. "They had quite a long conversation. He explained everything he was doing.'
Marshall also visited with students who were at the fort.
"The general stopped and talked with fourth and fifth grade students from the Berlin-Brothersvalley School. They were on a field trip. The teachers were knocked quiet,' said Storey. "It was nothing they ever expected on a field trip. Marshall had a smile on his face and went up and down the line shaking hands with the kids and they all had smiles on their faces.'
"Imagine how excited the kids would be,' said Storey's wife, Polly.
"The teachers, too,' noted Storey.
The Marshalls then went back to the White Swan for a private lunch and to visit with friends, including Dr. John D. Sturgeon, who was 99 years old. Storey noted that Sturgeon was a family friend. He would die at age 102, the oldest practicing physician in the country. Sturgeon was also the third physician in his family - both his father and grandfather were doctors. His grandfather also served two terms in the U.S. Senate.
While the Marshalls headed back to the White Swan, Storey hurried down the mountain to the paper.
He remembered, "We treated these stories as spot news. I was at the fort late morning, and stood with him until he got in his car, then drove like hell to get back to the paper. At that time, there was the Morning Herald and the Evening Standard. They had the same owners but different news staffs. The Herald had a morning edition and the Standard had editions at noon and 3 p.m. The final edition went to the city. So we had an advance story sitting there. We yanked that. I wrote a new lead for noon and then I wrote a complete story for the three o'clock edition. You had to work fast in those days.'
After lunch, Marshall spoke to Uniontown high school and parochial school students at the State Theatre. He had been scheduled to speak at the Uniontown stadium but it was raining and the event was moved inside.
Storey recalled that Marshall spoke to the students about the importance of studying history.
"It is of great importance to you, to understand the facts of history. The cause and effect - it is the failure to comprehend that which has gotten us into more trouble than anything else,' Marshall told the students.
Asked how the students responded, Storey said, "They were probably a little more attentive than kids are likely to be. I think they got the feeling this is one time in our lives we'll be rubbing shoulders with a truly great man.'
Storey reported that Marshall was also given awards, including the key to the city and souvenirs from local veterans groups.
"About 5 p.m., they had a reception at the White Swan ballroom for friends and relatives of the Marshall family from way back and big shots and politicians,' Storey recalled. "I went to the reception. They had a couple hundred people there.'
Asked how people responded to Marshall, Storey said, "Most of them almost stared. It's how you'd feel if God was there. They stared, shook his hand and smiled. It was considered a great honor.'
Storey, himself, was in awe of Marshall.
"Marshall had been my commanding officer,' noted Storey, who served as a combat engineer in the Army stationed in Europe during World War II. "From the standpoint of a veteran, I was proud of the whole thing. Marshall and Eisenhower were very popular with the troops. Eisenhower was right there. Marshall was certainly known to everybody, so I was proud.'
Asked about Mrs. Marshall, Storey said, "She was a matronly type. She wasn't flamboyant. She was very soft-spoken, very nice. You talk to her and it was like you were the only one in the room. Marshall, too, had a good way with people. He'd look you in the eyes and shake your hand.'
Storey would report on these events for the next day's afternoon edition. He also hung around that night as the Marshalls attended a private dinner at the White Swan for 30 guests.
"With some other newspaper reporters and curiosity seekers, I stood outside like a little orphan,' he smiled. "I never got in, but I wasn't about to leave. What if something happened and I was gone? So I stayed.'
The next day, Sept. 22, the Marshalls had private time in the morning but put in another public appearance as Marshall gave a speech to the Rotary Club at a luncheon at the White Swan. Storey believes he spoke about foreign affairs.
And then the Marshalls went home.
Marshall came back the next year for one more brief public appearance to speak at a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of the battle of Fort Necessity.
"He flew into the (Connellsville) airport without any fanfare. Nobody except a few people knew,' said Storey. "He met an old friend, Ralph Kennedy, whose brother was editor of the paper. Ralph drove him to the fort. He gave his speech and that was that. I covered that. I talked to Ralph Kennedy afterwards. It was a nice story. He told me what Marshall said in the car. I was at the fort but nobody got to talk to (Marshall). He got in his car and left. He must have just squeezed it in.'
Storey's interview with Kennedy showed Marshall's memories of the area.
He remembered Park Place Cemetery on Connellsville Street as the old Mountain View Park where he watched and played in baseball games. Passing Wharton Furnace Road, he remembered a good fishing spot there past the old furnace as well as another spot between the Summit and Chalk Hill at Captain Sam Brown's place (later the Ricks estate). Storey also wrote that Marshall once met a guest there who turned out to be Lillian Russell on the verge of a great acting career.
He was interested in the conversion of the Civil War Orphans Home at Jumonville into the Methodist Training Center. And going down the mountain, Marshall also told about a time he and a friend attended a cockfight near Coolspring that was raided. Marshall was 19 and hid in the woods with his friend until midnight before they could get their horses to ride home.
Five years after making his last trip to Uniontown, Marshall died on Oct. 16, 1959. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Uniontown has continued to honor Marshall after his death, including the creation of George Marshall Memorial Plaza, which is being formally dedicated today by England's Prince Andrew.
And 50 years after that 1953 visit, Storey can still recall the events with great detail and enjoyment.
"Those two days I spent with him,' said Storey, "were one of the highlights of my career.'