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Ellwood City, Pennsylvania
Eric Poole is a reporter and columnist for the Ellwood City (Pa.) Ledger, a small newspaper nestled near the Ohio state line in the heart of Steelers Country. He has a wife, a son and a daughter (so there will be some daddy stuff on this blog). A former steelworker and retired rugby player, Poole has a wide range of interests, which was reflected in the 2008 Pennsylvania Newspaper Association awards, when Poole won first-prize honors for best columns and best special project. His upcoming book, "Company of Heroes," due out March 17, 2015, from Osprey Publishing, tells the story of Vietnam War hero Leslie Sabo and his comrades. Sabo was awarded the Medal of Honor May 16, 2012, in a White House ceremony.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A western Pennsylvanian we should know better

So a friend of mine used Facebook a couple of days ago to ask the identity of the most accomplished western Pennsylvanian, living or dead, to be relatively obscure.

After some thought, I came up with Uniontown native George Marshall, and called him one of the five most important Americans the first half of the 20th century.* I mean, we’re talking about the guy who planned and carried out strategy crucial to winning two wars – World II and Cold.

During World War II, Marshall turned the U.S. Army from a ragtag band into one of the most effective combat instruments in history over the course of a few months. Even so, he remains relatively unknown to casual military historians. He never commanded an army in the field and unlike most of his fellow generals, never wrote a memoir.

George Marshall grew up in the western Pennsylvania coalpatch, where men worked 12-hour days in the mines, descending from darkness into darkness and returned to darkness, and they didn’t call the newspapers when they punched out.

That was the ethos into which George Marshall was raised – do your job and don’t expect a ticker-tape parade for it. Needless to say, it put him at odds with braying jackasses like George Patton, Douglas MacArthur and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, all lower-ranking officers and lesser men whose egos inflated their self-image beyond what their contributions would merit.

After World War II, he kept large chunks of Western Europe standing upright when they were still recovering from the conflict’s devastation and while the Soviets looked to entice them away from the West.

But because he shunned public recognition for his work, Marshall is relatively little-known even in the region where he grew up, much less in the nation he helped to save 70 years ago.

*I'm not altogether clear on the rest of the five most important Americans of the first half of the last century, but it would doubtlessly include the two Roosevelts. As for the remaining two, I guess we could draw it from this pool: William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein (who took U.S. citizenship in 1940).

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