John Marshall, Law Class of '62, receives Civilian Award for Lifetime of Serving Military

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School of Law


John Marshall never spent a day in the military. But he's devoted more than 50 years honoring those who serve.

"I don't know what it is. I just can't stop saying thank you to those people who are serving, or those who have served," he told the Herald recently. "We don't say thank you enough, especially to those who give us our freedom. They are our freedom."

That five-decade-long commitment was recognized earlier this month, when the 77-year-old retired Grand Forks attorney received the Distinguished Public Service Award, the Department of the Air Force's highest civilian award.

"Mr. Marshall's concern for Airmen and their families, and his desire to facilitate communities' service to those Airmen, was essential to his stewardship of an enduring relationship between the Air Force and the nation," the award read, in part.

The award was signed and presented by Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, and Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force.

Specifically, the Distinguished Public Service Award recognizes Marshall's three-year term as a member of the Air Force Civic Leader Program, a group of civilians that meets at least quarterly with senior Air Force brass to provide ideas and feedback on how the Air Force, its programs and Air Force communities can best serve each other.

Numerous awards

It's the latest in a series of military awards and recognition that extends back to 1989.

In 2005, for example, the Air Force recognized Marshall for being its longest-serving honorary wing commander.

Marshall's connection with Grand Forks Air Force Base actually stretches back to the early 1960s, when he was part of Grand Forks reception committee for the 905th Air Refueling Squadron and KC-135A Stratotanker mission.

Marshall, who has served as chairman of the council on military relations for the city of Grand Forks since 1988, has been part of four different Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) hearings, in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005. That's more than any civilian in the nation, he said.

He also has served on Air Force chief of staff boards with four different chiefs of staff.

"I'm a firm believer in relationships, relationships, relationships," he said.

He's built plenty of relationships in his career.

Marshall's office, on the second floor of a Library Circle office building, is a treasure trove of his experiences, from its kelly green walls and carpet -- a tribute to UND, his alma mater -- to photographs, plaques and other keepsakes he's collected over the years and memorabilia from his 40-year relationship with Burger King.

Marshall built Grand Forks' first Burger King restaurant, which opened in 1975. By 2000, his franchise extended to 14 Burger Kings throughout the region, including Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Fargo-Moorhead, Hillsboro and Jamestown, N.D., and Fergus Falls and Park Rapids, Minn.

He sold the restaurants late last year to a company from Ogden, Utah.

Marshall, a 1959 UND graduate, was attending UND School of Law in the early 1960s when he first considered entering the military.

"I wanted to be a chaplain but at the time, they didn't need any more chaplains," he said.

So, he stayed in school and completed his law degree.

"I regretted it," he said of missing out on military service. "So, in a way, this is my way of making up for it. I didn't serve, but I certainly can say thank you to those who are serving or have served."