“My mother used to wrap my lunch in a roadmap so I figured it was time to move on,” said Legault, 85, during an interview at his Platte City home earlier this week.
Legault ended up a decorated airman in the United States Air Force with tours in the Korean and Vietnam wars, a distinguished career that lasted 25½ years. Now retired, he continues to make his home in Platte City since moving to the area in 1974.
Occasionally known as “Mr. Magic,” Legault remains involved with military causes to this day. He’s a member of VFW Post 4055 and heads up its honor guard. He also remains committed to helping veterans and their families procure military awards and medals and navigate the Department of Veterans Affairs to obtain benefits.
Jerre Robertson, a regent with the Alexander Doniphan Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, recently came up with a way to honor Legault’s military career. She submitted his name to Honor Flight KC, and organizers picked him among this year’s 59 honorees to fly out to Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day to visit various war memorials in the nation’s capital.
Legault’s busy week started with a meet and greet and “briefing” on the flight, part of the Honor Flight Network established to celebrate veterans in the metro region. Check-in for Legault and others was scheduled for 4 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 11 and the flight returns to Kansas City at 10:30 p.m. later that night.
“Really, a little too quick, but you grab the chance that you can,” Legault said.
Legault’s story started in upstate New York in a town called Malone — the Star of the North. After originally signing up with the U.S. Army, he eventually became a member of the Air Force following the abolition of the Air Corps. He missed World War II by six months but saw plenty of action in his 2½ decades in the service.
Legault reached the rank of First Sergeant (E-7) during his time with the Air Force earning honors like the Distinguished Flying Cross (heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight) and 13 Air Medals (meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight).
A crew member, he recalls numerous times having his planes shot at, although he wasn’t part of a combat unit but they served in combat areas. There were plenty of emergency landings, and one of his planes in Vietnam became known as “Old Patches” because of its nearly 200 bullet holes.
“We couldn’t help it. We were a small group,” he said. “You were definitely in harm’s way all the time. They all were (emergency landings).”
In January of 1972, Legault’s plane again came under fire while on a mission in Vietnam.
That served as the reasoning to retire from the military and start his civilian life after one of those emergency landings. He left the service later that year and obtained a business administration degree, which led to a job with Wilcox Electric, Inc. and his relocation to Platte City where he remains.
“Never left. Love the place,” Legault said.
The military helped shape much of Legault’s life. He met his wife Frances while stationed in Rapids City, S.D.
The young couple met at a USO Club.
“Just like in the movies,” he said with a laugh.
The nickname Mr. Magic also comes from his time in the service, learning various magic tricks during his off time. The Legaults even became known for performing their magic act at USO shows, and Marlin has performed at area schools in recent years.
Not as much like the movies, Legault called himself an absent father at times due to his service.
The Legaults have nine children, born across the country from Alaska to South Dakota to Oklahoma to Illinois. The kids range in age from 50 to 64. They now have nearly two dozen grandchildren with their 65th wedding anniversary approaching.
That’s made the decision to stay in one place a little easier after years of travel. It finally became time to stop flying around the world and make a home.
“That’s a good way to put it,” Legault said.
That didn’t mean an end to military service.
Legault previously served as commander of VFW Post 4055 and remains active with the Knights of Columbus and USAF Flight Checkers Association, a group of current and former United States Air Force personnel dedicated to certifying the accuracy of Air Navigational Aids throughout the world — both in peace and war. Platte City now feels like his home, and he remains a very visible member of the area’s veteran community.
Legault’s role as the commander of the VFW Post 4055 honor guard has become especially poignant.
“That’s my baby,” he said. “I don’t enjoy it, but it’s something I realize the family (of fallen soldiers) would like, and they do. They like it very much.”
Legault’s service to the country and now to his community helped make him a candidate for the Honor Flight.
A well-known program, the members of the VFW, which Legault called a bunch of old folks getting together to talk about war stories, often discussed the flight, but he never gave much thought to being on one himself. He called his reaction a mixture of surprise and honor.
“I cannot say enough great things about him,” VFW Post 4055 commander Robert Munsey said. “Marlin is a stand-up guy, a great veteran. He cares about other veterans and truly deserves his place.”
Darleen Walsh, the Legaults’ second oldest child, will accompany Marlin on his Honor Flight. She flew in from Oregon this week to accompany her father on the trip.
“I think she was more excited than he was,” Frances Legault said.
Admittedly a bit ornery in his younger days, Legault said he would re-enlist all over again, although he might change some of his behavior.
Some of Legault’s medals sit in a glass encased wall hanging in the entryway to his house. Other airplane memorabilia and awards dot the area in the foyer. All are memories of his service, but he didn’t join for any of that, much less the opportunity to receive special recognition on this week’s Honor Flight.
Legault took many memorable flights during his service, and this one just adds to the list.