Questions about his unusual name leads man to Ozark County war hero
Marlyn Atkinson of Excelsior Springs, Missouri, had always wondered about his name. He had never encountered anyone else with the particular spelling his mother used. When he asked her about it, she said there was a boy in school whom she admired, and that was why she chose to spell his name as she did; it was the only way she knew to spell it.
Then, when reading the Ozark County Times and noticing in Linnie Ingram’s Tecumseh items that her own son was also named Marlyn, Atkinson wondered about the name again and decided to pursue the matter.
“I contacted the Times office and was given Linnie’s phone number, and I called her,” explained Marlyn. “She told me the same thing my mother told me before she passed away in 2012 – about a fine young man who had gone to Gainesville High School with them. Unbeknownst to one another, my mother and Linnie, who were the dearest of friends, both eventually named their sons for a fellow named Marlyn Herd.
‘I wanted to find out more’
Atkinson was intrigued with what Herd had been like, and research led him to the fact that the young man was killed in World War II; that was all he discovered. But after talking with Linnie, 95, a long-time Ozark County Times correspondent, Atkinson determined to come to Ozark County and reconnect with his roots. He met Linnie last week at the Ozark County Historium, where the two pored over family photos and Linnie shared stories of his mother as her classmate in the GHS Class of 1939.
“I was the rowdy one while Veryl was the quiet one,” Linnie said. “Still, we were the very best of friends!”
Linnie is the last surviving member of the class of ’39; other classmates included Bernie Bushong, Freeman and Ruby Epps, Dale and Maxine Morrison, Genelle McDonald, Tessie Looney, Doin Pitchford, Layton Plaster and Newt Turnbo. Marlyn Herd was a graduate of the GHS class of 1940.
Marlyn Atkinson’s parents were Ray Atkinson of Bakersfield and the former Veryl Pare, whose family lived at Romance. He has fond memories of visiting family in the county while growing up. His maternal grandparents were Marvin and Nellie Loftis Pare, and his paternal grandparents were Oscar and Audie Wells Atkinson.
“After learning that Marlyn Herd, for whom I was named, was killed in World War II, I wanted to find out more about him,” said Marlyn. “I especially wanted to know where he was buried – perhaps overseas somewhere.”
‘The ship was struck ... at night’
It turns out that there was first an overseas grave and now there’s a permanent one in the historic Isabella Cemetery in western Ozark County. A small military marker notes that Marlyn Cecil Herd was born in August 1922 and died Nov. 26, 1943. His rank is given as “TEC 5 44 Post Surgical Hosp, World War II.”
Herd was the oldest son of Delmar and Neva Shaw Herd of Isabella. Before being inducted into the U.S. Army on Dec. 21, 1942, he had attended college and was teaching in the small school at Isabella. One of his students, Doyle Kelley of Ava, remembers that once his teacher was drafted, he left right away.
“Someone else had to fill in as teacher for the rest of the year,” Kelley said.
Marlyn Herd’s three brothers, Alva, Ray and Paul, also served their country during World War II. According to Marlyn’s niece, Paula Herd Rose, they were in four different branches. Her father, Paul, was in the Marine Corps and was trained to teach pilots using a simulator.
According to an obituary published in the Ozark County Times, Marlyn Herd was “killed in action in Algeria, Africa.” The letter Mr. and Mrs. Herd received from Brigadier General Robert Dunlap said “the ship was struck by the enemy at night and sank rapidly in a heavy sea.” The letter also stated that half the men aboard were lost. The family later learned the loss of life was even greater than at Pearl Harbor, but details were not made public for fear of creating a panic in the American people.
“Uncle Marlyn was awarded a Purple Heart for his service,” Paula said. “My dad, who kept the medal after my grandparents died, told me that after Uncle Marlyn was killed, the other Herd brothers were stationed away from the front lines. The military didn’t want a family to have to lose more than one son.”
Marlyn Herd’s remains were “temporarily interred in the American Military Cemetery in Constantine, Algeria … with a Protestant ceremony conducted at the grave by an Army Chaplain.” At the family’s request, Marlyn was later returned home and buried in the Isabella Cemetery near his parents and other family members.
Paula Rose said she was always told that her Uncle Marlyn was “loaded with personality.” In later years, Paula’s father, Paul, was able to make contact with some of the men who served with Marlyn, and they all remembered him as being charismatic and having a great personality.
‘The namesake of a true American hero’
Perhaps it was that dynamic personality that inspired classmates Linnie Ingram and Veryl Atkinson to name their sons in honor of Marlyn Herd. Like too many other fine young men of that generation, Herd didn’t get to live long enough to marry and have sons of his own. But today two men bear his name – Marlyn Pitcock of Forsyth (son of Linnie Ingram and her first husband, the late Eldon Pitcock) and Marlyn Atkinson.
And perhaps it was the fact that Atkinson is himself a veteran that inspired him to learn more about Marlyn Herd. Atkinson enlisted in the Marines in 1966 and served in Vietnam from 1967-68. He spent a total of 30 years as a Marine, retiring as Chief Warrant Officer-4. In addition, his career also included teaching high school and working as an engineer for TWA and American Airlines. Today, Marlyn Atkinson and his wife, Kathy, live on a 60-acre farm near Excelsior Springs where he “flies out of his front yard” in a plane he keeps there.
So, what’s in a name? For Marlyn Atkinson, there is now a new sense of appreciation, along with the knowledge that he is the namesake of a true American hero – a hometown boy who, had he lived, would have been part of the Greatest Generation.