Lieutenant General Ernest C. Cheatham Jr.
1929 - 2014
VIRGINIA BEACH - Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Ernest C. Cheatham, Jr., passed away June 14 at Atlantic Shores Seaside Rehabilitation Center in Virginia Beach, VA. He was 84. He will be remembered, by those who knew and loved him, as a patriot, war hero, loving husband, caring father and stepfather, loyal friend, avid sportsman, and entertaining raconteur. Ernest "Big Ernie" C. Cheatham, Jr., was born to Ernest Clifford Cheatham, Sr., and Orissa Adams Cheatham on July 27, 1929 in Long Beach, CA. After earning his high school diploma at Saint Anthony High School in Long Beach, CA, he went on to receive a B.S. degree in Political Science at Loyola University in 1952. He volunteered for service as an officer in the United States Marine Corps by completing the Officer Candidate Course in Quantico, VA. He was commissioned a Marine second lieutenant on Sept. 20, 1952, and served as a platoon commander in Japan and Korea. Upon his return to the U.S. in June 1954, he left active duty for a short stint to try his hand at professional football, playing defensive tackle for both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Colts during the 1954 season. Deciding on a Marine Corps career, he returned to active duty in 1955. As he always said, he loved football, but he loved the Marine Corps more. In March 1955, he assumed the duties as a company commander at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, CA. Promoted to captain, in 1956, "Big Ernie" served as Executive Officer, Marine Barracks, Adak, Alaska; company commander with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, and 3rd Battalion 5th Marines; Inspector Instructor, 44th Rifle Company, Boise, ID; and with the 12th Marine Corps District, San Francisco, CA. Promoted to major, in July of 1963, he was assigned to the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, graduating as an honor student. His successful career, thus far, as a Marine officer, would be put to the test when he was transferred to Vietnam in July 1967. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1967, he was transferred to the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam where he served as a battalion executive officer and regimental operations officer. While in command of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, he earned the Navy Cross and the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" leading his Marines in the Battle of Hue City during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Returning to the United States in July 1968, he served in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until October 1970, when he became Executive Officer, Marine Barracks 8th and I, Washington, D.C. He was promoted to colonel in 1973 and brigadier general in 1977, and served as the Commanding General, Landing Force Training Command, Atlantic and Commanding General, 4th Marine Amphibious Brigade. "Big Ernie" was promoted to major general in 1981 and served as the Commanding General 1st Marine Amphibious Force, Camp Pendleton, CA. He was appointed lieutenant general in June of 1985 and assumed the duties as Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower at Headquarters, Marine Corps. He served in that capacity until his retirement in Jan. 1988. After his retirement, he continued to serve Marines as a consultant for the MAGTF Staff Training Program in Quantico, VA. In retirement, with his football days behind him, Ernie remained active in sports that he could enjoy with his friends and family. He enjoyed tennis and golf, and had a great love of fly-fishing. He would live up to the reputation of the incredible endurance of U.S. Marines by fishing until he could no longer stand in the water. He also enjoyed gatherings of family and friends to watch any and all sports competitions. It was during many of these gatherings that Ernie would regale us with his stories that were delightful and humorous to both young and old, always ending them with a twinkle in his eye and a devilish smile. He is recognized in the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, as the highest ranking military member to have played professional football. Additionally, he is a member of the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in Quantico, VA. Ernie's faith brought him through the many challenges of his life, both professionally and personally. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Virginia Beach and a devoted member of the Tuesday Morning Men's Bible Class at that church. Ernie was predeceased by his parents, Orissa Adams Cheatham and Ernest Clifford Cheatham, Sr.; his sister, Jayne C. Cory; his first wife, JoAnn Gunderson Cheatham; his daughter, Janet C. Shipley; and his son-in-law, James N. Taylor, Jr. He is survived by his loving wife, Barbara Trant Cheatham; daughter, Cynthia Taylor Cheatham of Culpeper, VA; son, Ernest C. Cheatham, IL, (Jenny) of Willow Springs, NC; brother, John W. Cheatham of Seal Beach, CA; sister, Mary Patricia Drumright of Torrance, CA; three grandsons: Michael David Shipley, Ernest Clifford Cheatham, IV, John Warren Cheatham; and one great-grandson. He is also survived by four step children: Major (USA, Ret) Thomas H. "Woody" Trant (Leigh) of Yorktown, VA; James R. Trant (Leslie) of Simpsonville, SC; Dr. John M. Trant of McAllen, TX; and Thirza Trant Symons (Jim) of Lancaster, VA; and by nine step-grandchildren: Ashley, Michael, Christopher, Tyler, Thomas John, Miller, Virginia, Katherine, and Mary Trant. The entire family wishes to thank the staff of the Step Down Unit, Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital, and the Atlantic Shores Seaside Rehabilitation for their loving care. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations be sent to Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad, 1234 Bayne Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23545, First Presbyterian Church, 300 36th Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451, or a charity of your choice. The family will receive friends at a visitation at the H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts., Laskin Road, on Monday evening, June 23rd, from 6-8 p.m. A memorial service will be held at First Presbyterian Church, Virginia Beach, on Tuesday, June 24th at 11 a.m. A second memorial service will be held at the Marine Corps Base Quantico Chapel, Quantico, VA on Wednesday, June 25th at 11 a.m. with internment following at Quantico National Cemetery. Semper Fi! Online condolences may be sent to the family at
Published by Daily Press on Jun. 22, 2014.
To plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.
6:00p.m. - 8:00p.m.
H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts.
Laskin Road, VA
Memorial service
First Presbyterian Church
Virginia Beach, VA
Memorial service
Marine Corps Base Quantico Chapel,
Quantico, VA
Quantico National Cemetery.
Please consider a donation as requested by the family.
Add a Message

Not sure what to say?

26 Entries
I was watching a CNN special recently about the Vietnam war and saw his name come up. He was a client at my travel agency years ago and I always remembered him as a big gentle teddy bear of a guy. I was so sad to just see this now. Ernie was the sweetest guy and I loved doing travel for him. My heartfelt thoughts go out to his family. Hugs!
Gaye Frooninckx Pietrocola
July 7, 2020
As a young boy I would often see Big Ernie at family gatherings. This was shortly after his pro football stint. I was struck by the magnetic personality that accompanied his natural imposing presence. As a distant cousin, I'd hear reports of his career from family, and later in the base newspaper at San Miguel, Philippines where I was a Navy radioman. Thank you General, for your life of achievement, heroism and service.
Patrick Sauer
July 11, 2014
Big Ernie and I were team mates on the 1956 San Diego Marine Football team. I am proud to say I was on a first name basis with such an incredible Officer. Rest well, Ernie.
Fred Nelson
July 2, 2014
What a dear man he was! We have missed him the last few years at the SAHS reunions. Now, he'll be sorely missed but remembered in our prayers.
Be at peace, old friend.
Love to the family.
Rhodyne Bedard Tappe
June 29, 2014
We were so proud of him! He will be remembered with much love and affection.
Nancy Firestone (niece)
June 28, 2014
General Cheatham defined what it is to be a Marine. May his soul rest in peace and the Lord comfort his family during this difficult time.
T.W. Kish
June 26, 2014
When Ernie was stationed in the bay area, we were on the Skeet Team for MBTI.
He will be missed.
Semper Fi Ernie!
SgtMaj Jess M. Wise USMC (Ret)
June 26, 2014
Very sorry to hear about my Uncle Ernie passing away! He was much loved by all!
Kathleen (Drumright) Holden, niece
June 26, 2014
so sorry to hear of ernies passing. we met at sugarloaf koa in the florida keys, when barb would have to back the motor home its spot. It was an honor to have met him i know he will be missed by all- a final salute to a great man. may god bless his family
steve and debbie espinola
June 25, 2014
so sorry to hear of ernies passing. i met him at sugarloaf koa in the florida keys back when barb would have to back the motorhome into its spot. It was an honor to have met him, and i know he will be missed by many the final salute to a great man
June 25, 2014
My sincere condolences to the Cheatham family. He was an exemplary Marine and mentor who impacted me and my career. Semper Fi,
Col Ben Saylor, USMC (ret.)
June 25, 2014
So sorry to hear about your loss. You know that God and Jesus are in the best position to comfort us when we lose a loved one in death.
T Griffin
June 25, 2014
Our deepest sympathy and love to Gen Cheatham's whole extended family, Marty & Rick Le Van
Marty Le Van
June 25, 2014
So sorry to hear of Mr. Cheatham's passing. Thinking and praying for his family.
V. Steinert
June 23, 2014
Our deepest sympathy to a great man.
Gysgt Myron F. (The Greek) Retired and Thelma Mlachak
June 23, 2014
June 23, 2014
June 23, 2014
June 23, 2014
God Bless/RIP,to ALL who served."Ask me what I was.For I was,Am and shall forever be a UNITED STATES MARINE". Thank YOU for your Amazing years of service,Lt.Gen.Cheatham...And Semper Fi
Herb Guyer-Sharfenaker USMC
June 23, 2014
As Marines, we didn't follow "Big Ernie" because we were ordered to...
We followed him because we wanted to...

Steve Hill
MSgt USMC (ret)
Gold Canyon, AZ
Steve Hill
June 23, 2014
I only met General Cheatham through his daughter and my best friend, Janet. There are now two more twinkling blue eyes in heaven. My thoughts and prayers are with all who loved him.
Janice Woods
June 22, 2014
A great Marine with whom it was my honor to serve. Leadership by example. We were better with Big Ernie.
Col William Davidson USMC ret
William Davidson
June 22, 2014
God bless you always. You were one of the finest men I ever had the pleasure on knowing. I will miss you.
Michael Shipley
June 22, 2014
Bravo Zulu Sir..
B James
June 22, 2014
My late husband, Col. John Moore, served under LtGen Cheatham from 1980-1982 in the 4th MAB. He had tremendous respect for the General, both professional and personal. I was with him on several occasions and he was a delight. May God rest his soul, and may John and all celestial Marines welcome him to Heaven.
Gay Moore
June 22, 2014
"Big Enie" was my Regimental CO when he was a Colonel...From there he went on to DC to put n his first star. Not only was he an oustanding officer but more so..he was an oustanding human being.
General Cheatham has secured his place among the legends of the Corps and he will never be forgotten.
Heaven just got a little bit better as "Big Ernie" joins his Marines that faught so gallantly at the Battle of Hue City during TET 68.
Rest in Peace, General.
Steve Hill
June 21, 2014
Showing 1 - 26 of 26 results