Editor's note: The following letter was sent to retired Florida State University French Studies professor Alec G Hargreaves, thanking him for his story "Marking an American hero's centenary," that appeared in Chasing Shadows in the June 14 issue.
I have read twice your story in the Apalachicola Times about Willoughby Marks, a very wonderful story, written even though you never knew him - or any of his family. He was my mother's brother. I was born and grew up in Apalachicola and I was well aware of him, even though he died in 1918 before I was born in 1921.
He was, one might say, legendary. Mother idolized him. She enjoyed talking about wonderful things he did. He was Grandmother's oldest child and was the "man of the house" after his father died when Willoughby was (if I remember correctly) 12 years old.
The Times story said that you live in France now. I wish you were still in Tallahassee so I could hope to meet you and talk about him. My brother Willoughby Marks Marshall now lives in Apalachicola, having moved back there from Boston when he retired from being an architect. He has lived, since Mother died, in the house at 5th Street and Avenue D which Grandmother bought when she was newly widowed in 1900. All three of Mother's children were born and grew up there. I usually go down there for about a week every spring but missed going this year. He was and is in a hospital in Atlanta, hopes to go home soon.
One alcove in the house was, when we were children, a sort of museum or shrine to Uncle Willoughby, so we were very aware of him. And the monument in front of the Gibson Inn is very close.
As many times as I have been in France, I never visited his grave, but my brother Willoughby did go there one time. I do get pretty emotional at military cemeteries but that's not why we didn't go; we drove on a highway pretty close to the grave but were in a hurry to get to a meeting and didn't stop. But I'll never forget the feelings I had at the one in Luxembourg. All those crosses in that beautiful place, each with a name on it. It was realizing about the names that made me so emotional. Irish names, English names, Italian, Polish, Scandinavian, yes even German names. But each name was on the grave of an American. That brought the tears. And when the chimes played "God Bless America," even the men were crying…
Thank you for placing the wreath on Uncle Willoughby's grave. That was beautiful. And if you ever go back to FSU or even to Apalachicola. do call my brother and his wife. He would love to meet you. Just a couple of blocks from the Gibson!
Thank you again for the article in the Times, and for the flowers.
Miriam M. Hemphill