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Alligator marines: the book
A story of the 5th Amphibious Tractor Battalion in WW II
Saipan Tinian Iwo Jima
is a book about the 5th Amphibious Tractor Battalion, World War II,
three tiny pacific islands, and the story of the 'young men' who became
'legendary men' fighting for their mothers and fathers, flag and
you and me.
Undoubtedly you know the story of Iwo Jima and have seen Joe Rosenthal's photo of the six heroes who raised the flag over Mount Suribachi. The battle for the volcano was an epic in itself, the capture of Suribachi becoming a legend in the long and varied history of the United States Marine Corps. What you haven't read about, however, is the story behind the legend, the story of the barefoot Marine who won't call himself a hero but never-the-less is. It is the story of my Dad who by 18 was already a veteran of Saipan and Tinian and then drove an Amtrac with the 5th Amphibious Tractor Battalion as they went ashore on Iwo.
The story is about heroes, coming of age, and facing the enemy. It is both tragic and humorous; it is the telling of the tale of Don Marshall, proud to number himself among those amphibians of the 5th who wore the eagle, globe, and anchor--an Alligator Marine! ~Shelly Marshall, Don's daughter
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Thank You very much for the trust and fast service. I served 3 tours in vietnam with the navy seabees, most of it with the marines. A GREAT bunchy of men. R. Lewis, Vichy, MO
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and couldn't put it down. I really believe that it's destined to become a classic of its genre. ~Tim Langdon from Sitka, AL
I truly enjoyed reading your piece, particularly since it was written from the perspective of one who was there. Quite honestly, it was the stories of men like you who inspired me to join the Corps. Semper Fidelis ~C. E. Mundy, JR, General U.S. Marine Corps, Commandant of the Marine Corps
'Alligator Marines' brought back memories long forgotten. You couldn't have told it better... ~William 'Baldy' Stoll, Lt. Col. USMC (retired)
Reading your account brought back memories of a time in our lives which certainly could not be characterized as hum-drum... You had a good story to tell and your told it well. I thought your description of unloading amptracs from the LSTs on D day at Iwo and the picture you painted of the utter chaos on the beach were especially well done. Your account of your experiences on the front lines gives the reader a snapshot of the reality of war. ~William S. Clark, former captain 5th Amph Trac Btn USMC
I still don't believe it, but I was there. Thanks for telling it like it was... ~Your Buddy, Sgt. 5th Amphs (retired) B.K. (EKE) Eagan
Marshall did a great job. 'Alligator Marines' was the best account I have read describing our time in WWII: unimportant events interrupted only utter chaos and total terror... a great and true story well told. ~Lt. Col USMC (Retired), Joseph W. (Spike) Malcolm
The book details Don's marine experiences with the United States Marine Corps' 5th Amphibious Tractor Battalion. One of the marine tools to whip a clever enemy and American lives was the fat, clumsy LVT, "landing vehicle, tracked,' more commonly known as the alligator.
Editor Beth Jacobs commented, "I have never enjoyed war stories, but I read this book from cover to cover gaining a whole new appreciation of what servicemen and women go through to ensure our freedom. I was amazed at the numerous times Don narrowly escaped death and the ingenious ideas they used to survive.
As an author, novelist, and whopper story teller, Don’s own life was rich with the experiences he wrote about during his lifetime.
His earth-bound adventures began on July 1, 1926, in Springfield, Illinois, as the youngest of Nettie and Gerald Marshall’s six children. As a youngster, Donald used to march into the local saloon and place a nickel on the bar above his head to buy a brew. He liked to recall his earliest memory of Christmas at age 4 when the drawing room door opened to a sparkling tree where he received an orange, some nuts and a toy wooden solider.
Early in his life, the family moved west to California in their old Model-T. His father Gerald, was a boy scout master for 16 years and taught Don the basic skills he needed for survival anywhere on earth, (including such an out of way place as Tok). He used these skills in the WWII Pacific campaign on the Islands, having enlisted at age 16. His birth certificate had been destroyed in a fire so he tricked his mother into believing he was older in order to sign for his enlistment. Later Don would write about his WWII experiences, most notably being in the 5th Marine Division and landing on Iwo Jima in 1945 where one in three did not come home.
At age 21, he met his first wife Georgiana “Jo” on a blind date in Los Angeles and they became a couple from that moment forward. They had two children, Shelly and Mike before he served in the Korean War. But Don didn't serve long and was allowed to return home when their third child,
Chris, was born.
After his service, Don began a career as a patrol officer for the Los Angeles Police Department where he worked for 20 years retiring as detective under renowned Police Chief William Parker. While still working for LAPD, Don met his second wife Virginia and her daughter Sherrie. He and Virginia had one son, Duke Marshall, and after their divorce Don raised Duke as a single parent.
Upon retirement, Don and his third wife Johna partnered together on a gold mining adventure in central California close to Mariposa. They lived in a cabin haunted by Henry, the Indian, who built the house and died in shoot out on the front porch. Henry used to chime in on their conversations by clanging caste iron pots hanging on the wall and courteously opening the gates when Don and Johna drove home late at night and they couldn’t decide who should get out of the vehicle to open it! Always the journalist, Don wrote for the Mariposa Gazette and was nearly run out of town when he chastised the local government for wasting the white line in the highway. He suggested they stimulate the economy by starting a spaghetti farm on the wasted space!
After realizing they were not going to strike it rich in gold country, the couple relocated to Alameda to begin a salvage and recycling business. However, Marshall’s real love was writing and with the help of Johna, he began freelancing full time. The Alfred Hitchcock Magazine published many of his short stories and After the Battle Magazine featured a number of his WWII
articles. Don became a well-known author and lecturer regarding shipwrecks along the Oregon and California coast. His list of book titles includes, “California Shipwrecks,” “Oregon Shipwrecks,” and “Alligator Marines." Between books, he acted in several play houses where he enjoyed playing the villain who tied the damsel to the rail road tracks.
Once Johna passed away, Don moved to Tok to be near his family. He contributed often to the Mukluk News always signing his bylines, “by Don Marshall and Johnny” (his dog) . He had named his dog after his late wife Johna and even managed to get the BLM to name a lake along the Taylor
Highway after her. He worked for the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge and managed a small recycling center at his cabin on the outskirts of Tok. He loved Tok and his many friends and they loved him. His blue Chevy with the Marine emblem on the door could be seen parked in front of the Husky Lounge or Tok Lodge where he often played “rippies” while having a few beers.
In 2008, Don came full circle and remarried his first wife, Jo, after a 53 year hiatus. She remained in California and he remained in Tok—but they enjoyed a sweet and supportive relationship by phone and US mail. “This time,” Don was fond of explaining, “it’ll last!” Though he was in poor health the last few years, his life was rich with tales of a bygone era. He was always polite and never complained of his many ailments. And if anyone had a moment, Don had a story. His interests were archeology, criminology, flying, gold mining, the Civil War, and WWII. He had a large collection of antique guns and bayonets as well as other various antiques. When his legs could not take him far, Don piled books about his room and continued to read about places his body would no longer take him. His imagination and curiosity never wavered.
Don is survived by his first and last wife, Jo; his children, Shelly, Mike, Chris, and Duke; his grandchildren, Jared, Hannah, Laura, Sheridan, Karma, Andrea, and Tammy; 7 great- grandchildren, 1 great-great grandchild and his beloved, pain-in-the-neck, big galoot dog, Johnny.