By John Hernandez
San Manuel Miner
On Nov. 6, 2013 Marshall W. Baird of Oracle was presented with the French Legion of Honor medal, 69 years after serving in the United States Army and fighting courageously in France to help liberate the country during World War II. The presentation ceremony was held at the Valencia Library in Tucson. Marshall along with six other World War II veterans received the French Legion of Honor medal to World War II veterans. The Légion d’Honneur is France’s highest award and is conferred upon men and women, either French citizens or foreign nationals, for outstanding achievements in military or civilian life. The president of France is the grand master of the order and appoints all other members of the order by convention on the advice of the government. Marshall was appointed as a Chevalier (knight) of the order.
Marshall Baird was born in El Paso Texas in April 1923. His family moved to New Mexico when he was five. He grew up in the Alamogordo vicinity and graduated high school in Reserve, N.M. After high school his two main jobs were working with the Civilian Conservation Corps and on a fire look-out tower for the U.S. Forest Service. Marshall then enlisted in the Army and received his basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas. He then went on to parachute school in Ft. Benning, Georgia. His MOS was rifleman but he also was a runner and bazooka man. He joined the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team and saw action in the Rome-Arno section in Italy. After a few weeks of combat his outfit was pulled out to begin training for the invasion of Southern France.
The invasion took place on Aug. 15, 1944. Marshall and his fellow paratroopers jumped inland north of Marseilles. They fought their way to the Italian border through the Maritime Alps. His outfit was in the frontlines for 94 consecutive days. From there he went to Soissons in Northern France to prepare for shipment to the Pacific theater. During this time, the Germans launched an attack and broke through the allied lines in the Ardennes. This became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was fought in Belgium, France and Luxembourg. It was the bloodiest battle fought by American soldiers in World War II. Over 19,000 American soldiers were killed in 40 days of fighting. The 517th was called in to help repulse the attack and arrived at the front line on Dec. 21, 1944. Marshall would be eventually evacuated to a hospital in England after suffering severe frost bite. After being treated and released he joined up with the 82nd Airborne Division and went to Berlin, Germany as part of the occupation forces.
Marshall fought in five campaigns (Rome, Arno, Southern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe). His awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, Parachute Wings (one star), Presidential Unit Citation, and the Good Conduct medal. After the war he returned home in 1946 moving to Arizona in the 1950s. His work history included ranching, truck driving, labor foreman, and manager of an estate for an English Countess near Oracle. After retirement he served his community working as a fire department dispatcher, president of the Oracle Community Center, and secretary/treasurer of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association (18 years). He was married to Rita Romer and they raised a son Bill and daughter Maggie, with three granddaughters and four great-grandsons. His wife Rita passed away in May 2012. Marshall lives by himself in Oracle.
In May 2013, Marshall received a letter from the French Ambassador to the United States announcing his appointment to the Legion of Honor. It read as follows:
I am pleased to inform you that by decree of President Hollande on May 21, 2013, you have been appointed a “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor.
This award testifies to President Hollande’s high esteem for your merits and accomplishments. In particular, it is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II.
The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by persons of exceptional merit. The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom.
It is a true pleasure for me to convey to you our sincere and warm congratulations.
Thank you Marshall Baird for your service and congratulations on the honor bestowed you by the nation of France. It was long overdue.