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 hdoliver.com
Published by Daily Press on Jun. 22, 2014.