Standing Left to Right: Clark Doyle, Beverly Doyle, Margaret Marshall, Cynthia Hopkins, Thomas Hopkins. Seated: Felix Marshall and Peter Marshall.
By Bruce Conklin - Tourism Director
As tourism director I'm often asked why do people come to Lebanon, Missouri? Is it for the fishing? Is it Route 66? Is it for great dining choices? It is for all of these things but there's one reason that sometimes goes unnoticed.
|Lebanon, Missouri is a great place to reunite with family members, break bread and share phenomenal stories from the past.
Just recently I had the privilege of talking to some visitors who were here to reunite with some family members spread across Missouri. The patriarch of the visiting family, Peter Marshall, who is now 94 years old, was in town to see his brother, Benjamin 'Felix' Marshall. Felix, now 99 years old, lives here in Lebanon right on Historic Route 66. He is one of a handful of still living survivors of Pearl Harbor. The brothers are the last two remaining siblings of twelve.
Peter Marshall Visiting the Cowan Civic Center
I was invited to go out to Felix's house with his family to sit down and talk to the brothers about what it was like growing up in the area and about the opportunity they had to move back.
Peter, who now lives in Arizona with his daughter Beverly and her husband, met up with Cynthia and her husband from Oregon, in Kansas City where they started their trip. Along the way they stopped to meet up with nieces, nephews, cousins, take in some sights like the capitol in Jefferson City and visit their old homestead in Long Lane. Along their travels here locally they went to Phillipsburg where Peter visited his old high school and he had the opportunity to meet up with a former classmate.
Growing up, the area was a vastly different place. When Peter and Felix were children and their older siblings were enrolled here at Lebanon High School, the siblings would stay in a boarding home. Every Saturday, the family would come to town to drop off groceries to them for the week. Peter would later be enrolled into Phillipsburg High School as he says, "Had a pretty good bus service, I only had to walk a mile or so."
It was a common occurrence that if you wanted something you walked for it. The brothers would regularly take a five mile trek to the nearest town. Peter shared a story of a time when he had walked the five miles only to find the barbers was closed, so he walked another three miles to complete his task and still had a return trip. When was the last time you heard anyone say they walked sixteen miles for a haircut?
After high school, Felix left the area and would become a Marine before joining the Navy. Peter who was five years younger, completed high school and then also enlisted in the Navy. The two brothers had radically different experiences during World War II. Felix would be assigned to the USS Tern, an Ocean Tug. Peter would go on to complete Naval Hospital Corps School in San Diego. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Felix was berthed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Peter was preparing for a day of surgery at a hospital on the island of Guam. The events of that day would not see these brothers together again for almost four years.
USS Tern: The ship Felix Marshall served on in WWII.
Shortly after the devastation at Pearl Harbor, which Felix had survived, the First Battle of Guam began. Peter was informed that enemy planes where bombing the Marine base. Within thirty minutes, the first of the patients would arrive and for the medical staff it became a long day of patient after patient. Within forty eight hours of the arrival of the first patient, they were informed that the Japanese had overrun the island. Later that day the Japanese took the hospital and escorted all but twenty of the staff away. Those twenty, which included Peter, would remain at the hospital to care for the patients left behind for the next couple of weeks until they too were escorted away. Felix, who was working as a radio operator still serving on the USS Tern, would not hear of his brother's fate for months after the capture.
On September 2, 1945, after almost four years (1,368 days) of hard labor, mental torture, sickness and starvation, Peter and the rest of the POWs he was with were loaded onto a train for Tokyo where they found out they were officially free men. In the subsequent days traveling by boat, plane and train, Peter and his comrades made their way to the United States. Felix, who at the time was traveling cross country, heard his brother was not far from where he was and detoured to meet him. While recovering, Peter met the woman that would then become his wife, who was from Lebanon.
It would take months after Peter got home to be able to sleep through the night. Felix continued on in the service and retired after serving 20 years. All these years later it is evident that the experiences and the memories are as fresh as ever for these brothers.
The day after I sat down to talk to them, they were on the move again headed in the direction of Springfield where they will continue meeting family and friends as they make their way back to Kansas City for their return flights. It was an incredible opportunity to hear these stories told from the people that lived them. These are the stories and experiences that can only be passed down when you reunite a family and that's what Lebanon is, the perfect place for a family reunion.