Vicki Taylor Marsh may have come from a ranch outside tiny Scenic, South Dakota, where she attended a one-room school for the first few years, but she followed her mother into active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps.
And Marsh had a 26-year career and retired as a full colonel in 1998.
There were a lot of first steps and new experiences between those two “bookends.”
In retirement, her passion is activism on behalf of veterans, especially the new “Together with Hill Country Veterans.” It’s a fairly new program with the VA across Kerr and six other counties to prevent veteran suicides.
She has been working out of an “office” in the Hill Country Veterans Center, with a volunteer board.
“My mom, Vivian Taylor, got into the Marine Corps underage at 17 by lying about her age. She was a World War II aircraft mechanic and she knew everything about Pratt & Whitney engines. The friendships she made in the military carried her through life.”
Marsh said the family moved to the small town of Pocahantas, Ark., for a short time and then to another small town of Owensville, Mo.
She said when they lived in South Dakota, they could see the lights on Mount Rushmore from the ranch, and she best remembers the frequent fossil-hunting they did there as children. The next place was mostly forgettable.
Marsh said in ninth grade her parents weren’t doing well together, and they sent her to a Catholic boarding school in a suburb of St. Louis. “I was a good student, but the Catholic nuns made me a better one.”
Later, she said, her parents took a trip to Corpus Christie, Texas and fell in love with the Texas Gulf Coast; so they moved there. Vicki graduated with honors from high school in Corpus and attended Del Mar Junior College and the former Texas A&I Kingsville.
“I got a degree in secondary education and taught eighth-grade English at Northside School District in San Antonio. I lived in an apartment near Wilford Hall and watched the nurses who lived there and worked nearby. And my job just wasn’t as satisfying. So I made appointments with recruiters for the Marines and the Navy,” Marsh said.
“The Marines were so welcoming that I canceled the second appointment.”
She said her mother supported her decision, but Vicki didn’t tell her until she was already in the Marine Corps. “I think she knew I always wanted to travel.”
She said she had two male cousins and a half-brother who served in Vietnam, too.
In June 1972, Marsh reported to Quantico, Va., for female-only officer candidate school, followed by a 12-week Basic School for new lieutenants, including classes in something called “land nav.”
It was the first of multiple assignments to Quantico.
They assigned her as a public affairs officer at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind., next, followed by reassignment to a joint public affairs office at Cherry Point, N.C., where she helped produce their base newspaper.
Her assignments after 1975 took her into personnel administration, with a stop as a recruiting officer.
“They sent me to Atlanta, Ga., for recruiting duty in an office, but I also got to visit a lot of colleges. That was a fun job,” she said. “And I made captain while I was there.”
After that, there was an assignment to Professional Military Education School back at Quantico, followed by Amphibious School.
In Marsh’s career, she went overseas twice, both times to Okinawa, a Japanese island about 200 miles south of the main four Japanese islands. Taken by U.S. forces in World War II, it was returned to Japanese ownership in 1972 with the provision that the U.S. could maintain military bases there.
“I was a personnel officer for a battalion of about 1,200. I was helped a lot by the non-commissioned officers,” Marsh said. “I met Sam Marsh there, but our first date took a while. Our unit had an ‘audit’ and scored well, and we had a celebration. I met Sam at the party and our first date was on his motorcycle. He really loved that motorcycle.”
She said he’d been in the Far East for 10 years, and was recently divorced from an Okinawan lady. Marsh was a little leery of getting too involved at first, and then stayed on the island for only one year before being sent stateside again.
“I was sent to the oldest Marine Corps base in the United States, in Washington, D.C., ‘Marine Barracks,’ and stayed there three years,” she said. “I wrote the correspondence courses for the whole Corps. Sam and I married there; and I made major there.”
After that it was back to Quantico for Vicki for “Marine Corps Command and Staff College.”
And they learned that Marine Corps spouses could be transferred together. Luckily the two of them had similar MOSs.
Next her assignment was Camp Lejeune as an infantry division operations officer in a “man-power office.”
“Technically I was ‘senior’ to Sam, but he used to say, “But I’m ‘rank-er’ than her.”
Marsh said she got her first experience with “exercises” out in the field and learned to love them.
Four years at Headquarters Marine Corps followed, where she was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and worked in Officer Assignment Branch. She was sent to what she called “top level school” at the Naval War College. “I got my masters degree there.”
Sam also retired there, before her.
She next became an executive officer at an “in-processing center” at Ft. Meade, Md. When it was shut down, she was sent back to Okinawa.
“It wouldn’t have been my choice, but it was ‘my turn in the barrel.’ The colonels’ housing was nice, nicknamed ‘Eagle’s Nest.’ But we were still sharing a living area and kitchen with another colonel on the other side of the ‘house.’
“Sam spoke the language there, a good thing. The Japanese culture is very ‘macho.’ We rented a 400-square-foot Japanese home, with four rooms; and toured all their historical and war sites.”
Marsh said she got her full colonel rank while in Okinawa.
Then it was back to Camp Lejeune, with her new rank and 26 years in service. She was selected for a battalion command over 1,600 personnel.
“Some generals didn’t want me to have it,” she said.
Much of her duties involved disciplinary cases; and she said she got good advice from her commanding major general –“Always give the benefit of the doubt to the Marine;” and “Always listen to your Sergeant Major.”
After the Marshes moved to Kerrville, her mother also came here. Vivian died in 2000, and Vicki is grateful for that last year with her.
And Sam died recently here, in the Kerrville VA Medical Center, after their nearly 40 years of marriage.