Marion County’s Famous Government and Military LeadersJuly 15, 2016
When driving into Marion County off the Gateway Connector, you may notice an extra-large American flag. That flag isn’t the only patriotic point in our county’s heritage.
We have a long list of men and women ready to serve our country in both the government and the military, dating all the way back to the founding of the state!
Check out this list for some of our most distinguished servant-leaders!
Brothers in Arms
Frank Kendall Everest, Jr. (1920-2004)
They didn’t call Frank Everest, Jr. the “fastest man alive” for his leg power on the ground but his fly power in the air!
A Fairmont native who graduated from Fairmont Senior High, Everest spent a year at Fairmont State College and time at WVU before joining the fray of World War II as a fighter pilot.
A brilliant fighter, Everest completed 67 combat missions and shot down four Japanese aircrafts before being shot down and captured as a prisoner of war. He was rescued after the war ended.
While test flying a Bell X-1B plane, Everest first broke 2.3 times the speed of sound before testing another plane and breaking the record at 1,957 mph, making him the fastest man alive.
Along with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, and many other military honors, Everest was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor, and in 1956 was named by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of the “Greatest Living Americans.”
Harrison C. Summers (1918-1983)
When rumbling through the small town of Rivesville, you may cross a bridge named after an old coal miner named Harrison C. Summers.
This former coal miner gave much more than coal to our county, however. He helped give the United States its freedom during World War II.
Summers began his legacy in the skies of Normandy during D-Day. He and his troops had helped capture the town of Saint-Germain-de-Varreville, France, near Utah Beach. They were ordered to make a raid of a German building complex—a complex that ended up crawling with more than 100 German soldiers.
With only two other soldiers behind him, Summers charged into the complex with a submachine gun and his courage, taking the compound and killing over 30 German soldiers himself.
His actions left him known as the “John Wayne” of the battlefield with his fellow soldiers and a Distinguished Service Cross.
Stop at the bridge that bears his name, and tell the story of one of Marion County’s finest to the whole family!
Hershel W. Williams (1923— )
He may have been turned away on his first army enlistment attempt for being too short, but his actions in World War II left “Woody” Williams as a tall hero in the eyes of his fellow soldiers and his home county!
A former truck driver and taxi driver in the town of Fairmont, Williams met his destiny in the bloody battle of Iwo Jima.
Armed only with a flame-thrower, Williams went forward ahead of his unit to try to open the way for American infantry to pass the minefields and deadly artillery fire.
Williams fought throughout the battle, sending his flames bursting on the enemy many times in the next five weeks before being wounded.
For his tremendous efforts during the battle, he received the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor, awarded by President Truman.
In Marion County, we honor his legacy with our own National Guard Armory, bearing his name.
Colonel George “Spanky” Roberts (1918-1984)
The skies of North Africa saw many glimpses of “Spanky” Roberts during World War II, but before he became the first African-American military pilot from West Virginia, Roberts was a small town boy attending high school in Fairmont.
Roberts graduated from Dunbar High School before attending what is now West Virginia University for a degree in mechanical arts.
After training as a pilot, Roberts joined the famous Tuskegee Airmen and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1942 before entering the conflict of World War II.
Roberts flew more than 100 missions in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe against the enemy before the war ended. He came home to the Tuskegee Institute to become the senior Air Force ROTC instructor.
He continued to serve the military in Korea and Okinawa, and helped fighters in Vietnam with logistics before finally retiring from the service after 26 years of service. Roberts then became a banker for 14 years before a final retirement.
The United States honored this legacy-leaving flyboy with such honors as the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Force Commendation Medal. In Marion County, we honor Roberts with a bridge between First Street and Cleveland Avenue named in his honor.
Francis H. Pierpont (1814-1899)
The founding of West Virginia in 1863 caused celebration throughout the western part of Virginia, but held special joy for Francis H. Pierpont—the father of our great state and one of Fairmont’s own.
A teacher and a lawyer, Pierpont began campaigning around Virginia as a Whig party member and then as an advocate for the anti-slavery movement during the secession crisis of 1861.
When Virginia decided to secede from the Union, Pierpont was elected to attend both of the Wheeling Conventions to reorganize the state’s government, and he became governor of the Restored Government of Virginia in 1861.
Pierpont helped West Virginia to achieve statehood in 1863, and continued as governor of the restored state of Virginia, while advocating for such issues as Union reconciliation and schools for freed slaves.
After the war, Pierpont tried to restore Virginia in the Union’s good graces, but was too nice to ex-Confederates for some tastes. He was removed from office and replaced with a military commander during the Reconstruction era.
Pierpont may have never been governor of West Virginia, but he did serve in the state Senate after his return to Fairmont. He spent his final days serving his state as founder of the West Virginia Historical Society.
He and his wife Julia, credited with founding Memorial Day, live on in Civil War history and in their memorials at Woodlawn Cemetery. Visit their graves there, or take part in Marion County’s annual Julia Pierpont Day.
You may catch a glimpse of Francis and his wife at the Marion County Historical Society in reenactor form!
Joe Manchin (1947— )
Mention the name Manchin around Marion County, and you will hear a legacy of everything from medicine to education to government greats.
Joe Manchin, a native of Farmington and graduate of Farmington High School, grew up in a well-known family, both locally and in Charleston. His father and grandfather had both served Farmington as town mayor, and his uncle A. James served in various state government positions, including as House of Delegates member, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer.
After losing his football scholarship to West Virginia University due to an injury, Manchin graduated with a degree in information services.
Following in the footsteps of his famous uncle, Manchin was elected to the House of Delegates before serving in the West Virginia Senate and as Secretary of State.
Manchin was elected as governor of West Virginia in 2004 and held office for two terms before taking over US Senator Robert C. Byrd’s seat after his death in 2010.
Serving as a US Senator with an office in downtown Fairmont, Manchin is considered one of the most bipartisan senators in Congress, meeting with all of his colleagues during his first year of office to get to know them.
Manchin is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys hunting, fishing and motorcycling. He is also a licensed pilot, and he and his wife Gayle consider Fairmont as their home.
Natalie Tennant (1967— )
Natalie Tennant has had many hats during her life, beginning with small town farm girl in Fairview, West Virginia. One of her first roles was baby of the family, with six older siblings and one bathroom in the house.
A graduate of North Marion High, Tennant attended WVU for a journalism degree and became the first lady Mountaineer, despite criticism from some fans. She survived college on a minimum wage job and the cows her father sold to help with her tuition!
After graduating, Tennant became active in the media and broadcasting world, including working for WBOY-TV, before receiving her master’s degree in Corporate and Organization Communication from West Virginia University and owning a small business with her husband Erik.
Tennant was elected as West Virginia’s Secretary of State in 2009. During the year of 2010, she instituted a program allowing West Virginia military members serving overseas to vote. Tennant was reelected in 2012 to another four year term.
She uses her journalism background in her official duties by promoting the Secretary of State’s office on social media and with live webcasts.
Roman Prezioso, Jr. (1949– )
As a former education from Marion County, West Virginia Senator Roman Prezioso knows about teaching. He’s spent the last twenty years in the Senate teaching West Virginia to go forward.
Prezioso was born in Monongah and graduated from Monongah High School, which he attended with Nick Saban for a time.
After graduating from Fairmont State College with his bachelor’s and WVU with his master’s degree, Prezioso began teaching in Monongalia County before becoming the Adult Education Coordinator and Administrative Assistant for Marion County Board of Education.
Prezioso worked in public education for 39 years, while spending much of that time in the legislature. He served in the House of Delegates before being elected to the Senate in 1996.
During those twenty years, Prezioso has focused on education, economics, and other issues while serving as chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Prezioso and his wife consider Fairmont home, and he has served as a member of the Fairmont chapter of the American Cancer Society and on the Board of Directors for the Mountaineer Area Boy Scouts of America, as well as many other notable community causes.
With all the patriotism coming out of Marion County, you won’t be surprised when you visit to see the emphasis we place on our history.
Check out the Marion County Historical Society, our Civil War Trail markers, Woodlawn Cemetery and other historical sites about the county, and then take a look at our American Heroes itinerary for more famous West Virginians across the state who played a part in changing the world we live in today!