This year’s Grand Marshal for the Secaucus Memorial Day Parade, Michael Marra, not only carries a legacy linked to his father Gerard A. Marra, Sr., who served the community in many ways, but he also fought in legendary battles with distinction during World War II.
His decorations and citations include: the American Theater Ribbon, European-African-Middle Eastern Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, Victory Medal and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
While he didn’t want a parade when he returned home in 1945 near the end of the war, after being wounded a second time, he has agreed to take part in this Memorial Day Parade on May 19, almost seven decades later, at the age of 89.
Born in 1923, Marra said he enjoyed ‘Old Secaucus’ where everyone knew each other by name. He said that he knew every person that came into Marra’s Drug Store where he worked as a teenager behind the soda fountain. His father Gerard, a pharmacist, opened the first Marra’s Drug Store in 1923, and established the family name within town. Gerard was referred to as “Mr. Secaucus,” for his many contributions to the community.
He came up with a password no German could guess: Secaucus
As the oldest of four siblings, Marra was the first to go to war, but his younger brothers Gerard and Angelo would later serve during the Korean War.
College plans deferred for war
While Marra had an interest in joining the army he also had aspirations of going to college but put those plans aside.
“I had no choice…but I needed that little push.” He went to work behind the soda fountain at his father’s drug store until he received notice, and once he did his father had very specific instructions for him, “Get on the bus with your clothes on.”
He left town for training in the South with nothing more than the clothes off his back because that was all that he needed, he said.
To alleviate any apprehension, his father told him that the war would be over before his basic training was up “but it wasn’t,” said Marra. He joined the Army on Feb. 14, 1943.
He completed nine weeks of specialized training in aviation engineering. He first went out to England, which had regular air raids, but was soon called into combat in France.
When he first arrived in France it was a real change from England.
“This is a war,” Marra said he thought at the time.
“I don’t know how I didn’t get killed,” said Marra. “I was very fortunate.”
Marra served in the 101st Engineer Battalion in the 26th Yankee Infantry Division. He said it was his outfit’s job to clear the path for the infantry. He fought in battles in Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe.
Near Luxembourg, Marra suffered his first injury during combat.
Under borage of aerosol bombs Marra dove into a foxhole. He was hit in the back of his leg.
“It was bleeding and swelling and I couldn’t get up,” said Marra. Not all of the men in his unit survived the assault. He said that was his initiation into war.
He was taken to England for surgery. Soon after he recovered he took care of wounded soldiers until he was sent back into combat.
“We had a new leader,” said Marra. “I had joined Patton’s army.”
He fought in Lt. General George S. Patton’s army and took part in the Battle of the Bulge, which was Germany’s last major offensive to split the Allied forces between Britain, France, and the United States.
A password no Nazi could guess
Marra said that at one point he was given the task of coming up with the password that soldiers were to use to identify fellow Americans when approaching a unit. He said that the German officers, stole their uniforms, dressed up like the Americans, and spoke perfect English. They would often figure out the American passwords by saying ‘Mickey Mouse’ or ‘Coming Home’. But Marra figured he would stump them.
“Let’s give them a hard one – Secaucus,” said Marra.
“The Battle of the Bulge I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Marra.
“My outfit took a beating,” said Marra. “But they were real soldiers.”
During the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive was planned under the cover of darkness.
Marra was ordered to move at night to “sneak into the action.” He was on a mission to join up with his outfit, which was some distance ahead of him.
He said he moved through snow and sawdust clearing the way for the infantry.
His unit was ordered to clear a roadway but were immediately besieged by Germans – a battle ensued.
“They all popped up,” said Marra. “We were hiding behind the trees.”
Marra ran for cover behind a tree and moved a branch that triggered a “booby trap,” and set off explosives.
“Everyone is fighting back and forth. I yelled for a medic,” said Marra. He was surprised someone came to his aid immediately and he was taken to a field hospital. Marra knew that he wouldn’t return to combat after that injury. He was discharged Dec.18, 1945.
When he returned home, he pursued pharmaceutical studies at St. John’s University. In 1951 he married the late Leanora Marra. He has five children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. He served on the school board for three terms. He is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church, where he still serves as an usher. He is a member of American Legion Post, VFW, Knights of Columbus, and a charter member of Secaucus UNICO.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.