Lester A. Marks, 77, war hero, photographer, distance cycler

May 26, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Lester A. Marks, a war hero as an infantryman in World War II and combat photographer in Korea, died of cardiac arrest May 16 at Harford Memorial Hospital. The Joppa resident was 77.

Mr. Marks survived the Battle of the Bulge and a German prisoner-of-war camp. His medals included the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.

He retired first from the Army as a master sergeant, and then from his position as a civilian photographer at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In recent years, Mr. Marks devoted much of his time to bicycling -- despite three heart attacks, a stroke and a hip replacement -- and celebrated life with a 49-day coast-to-coast ride in 1993.

Born and raised in Providence and on Block Island, R.I., he enlisted in the Army in 1937. During World War II, he served with the 550th Airborne Battalion in Sicily, Italy, and southern France.

Twice wounded, he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action after pinning down 15 German soldiers with rifle fire and causing their surrender.

"Private First Class Marks, acting on his own initiative and with complete disregard for his own safety, ran up an outside flight of stairs on a nearby building to a position from which he could fire down into the enemy position," reads the Silver Star citation.

Severely wounded at Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, he was taken prisoner and held in Stalag 66 with 10,000 other POWs.

In an interview years ago, Mr. Marks said, "Our biggest preoccupation in the camp was writing on scrap paper what we would eat when we were released." He said what he wanted most was one of his Jewish mother's dishes.

"Hope always existed," he said. "I never thought I wouldn't be released."

He survived Allied strafing of boxcars filled with POWs and existed on a meager diet of cabbage soup and water. His weight had dropped from 135 pounds to 95 pounds by May 1945, when tanks from Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army liberated the camp.

Discharged after the war, he studied motion-picture TTC photography and re-enlisted in the Army in the late 1940s -- just in time for the Korean War. Assigned to the 71st Signal Service Battalion, he was the first Army photographer to parachute into Korea with the 187th Regimental Combat Team.

While filming action near Sukchon, he saw an officer fall. He kept his camera rolling when another soldier going to the aid of his comrade was wounded with shrapnel. Amid the heavy mortar and artillery attack, Mr. Marks dragged the first soldier to a ditch and later to a tank. After the tank was hit, he returned to aid the man and was shot twice while carrying him to his jeep.

In another heroic act, he rescued seven wounded soldiers, carrying them to safety.

For these deeds, he was awarded the two Bronze Stars.

After Korea, he joined the Army Pictorial Center at the Astoria Studios on Long Island, N.Y.

In 1953, then a master sergeant, he was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary short subject for "Operation Blue Jay," a film about a ground crossing of the Greenland icecap. He also was cameraman for films aired on the Army's nationally broadcast television program, "The Big Picture."

Mr. Marks retired from active duty in 1960 but remained with the Army Pictorial Service as a civilian until it closed in 1970. He then transferred to Aberdeen Proving Ground as a scientific and technical cameraman. He retired in 1992.

He suffered his first heart attack in 1986 while returning from Washington and managed to drive himself to the hospital at nearby Fort Meade, later noting that he remembered none of it. He had two more heart attacks, a stroke and a hip replacement.

He took up bicycling, at first huffing and puffing. His pace stepped up, and in 1993 he rode with Pedal for Power Across America from Los Angeles to Boston in 49 days.

Last year, he rode in the Cycle Across Maryland tour among a handful of riders in the 76-plus age category.

He was interred Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife of 41 years, the former Leone Paulson; two daughters, Mary A. Marks of Bellevue, Wash., and Barbara Marks Gray of Benicia, Calif.; and a brother, Robert Marks of Attleboro, Mass.

Pub Date: 5/26/97

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