By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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It was the 47th time Seabees had gathered at Gardiner Cemetery to visit the grave of Marvin G. Shields, a native of the Gardiner area who was killed at age 25 while taking out a machine gun nest in Vietnam in 1965.
Shields is the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor.
“We all know his story,” Navy Cmdr. Chuck Bowers, a Seabee, said.
“He has his own ship named after him. When I was studying at Penn State [University], the ROTC hall was named Shields Hall.”
Seabees — nickname for the Navy's construction battalion — from Whidbey Island, Everett, Bangor and Bremerton stood at attention for a 20-minute ceremony in the secluded cemetery.
“Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Marvin Shields is present but unable to respond,” a Seabee called out.
“Where does this nation get such men?” Chaplain Brent Johnson asked in prayer.
Builder Kelly Daw read the Navy retirement poem “The Watch,” symbolically relieving Shields from his duty.
“Shipmate Shields, you stand relieved. We have the watch,” Daw said.
With a motto of “We fight, we serve,” the Seabees are primarily responsible for installing infrastructure for in-the-field combat operations.
Fellow Seabees placed a special arrangement of blue flowers on Shield's gravestone, prominent in the tiny cemetery, and a lone bugler's horn echoed “Taps” down the hillside.
“This gets me every year,” Bennett said. “That these men come up here to honor Marvin is really something.”
Current and retired Seabees then embraced Shields' widow, Joan Bennett of Gardiner, and his brother, Don Shields of Quilcene.
“These guys don't get the day off. I guess they've got to retire first,” Don Shields said.
Shields remembered his brother as a boy who loved to take little boats around the waters of the North Olympic Peninsula. The two brothers would often hop in 14-foot boats with 10-horsepower engines and go adventuring, Don Shields said.
He remembered taking boats to Protection Island, spending the afternoon exploring and then spending nights sleeping under the overturned boats before returning to the mainland the next morning.
After the ceremony, the Seabees, gathered veterans and civilians gathered at the Gardiner Community Center before going to grab burgers at Fat Smitty's cafe at the southern tip of Discovery Bay.
President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Shields the Medal of Honor in 1966 for gallantry during combat.
Shields died in combat in 1965.
Retired Seabee Daniel Johnson read Shields' Medal of Honor citation during the ceremony, recounting his heroic sacrifice for his mates.
On June 10, 1965, Shields' team arrived in Dong Zoai, South Vietnam, to build a compound for the Army Special Forces.
Viet Cong soldiers spotted the Seabees and began to fire machine guns onto the group.
Shields fought with the enemy for almost three hours after being initially wounded by artillery fire.
He was wounded again, but went out to retrieve and rescue another more critically wounded man.
He picked his weapon back up and resumed firing for another four hours.
When commanders asked for a volunteer to go take out the machine gun nest from which the Viet Cong were peppering U.S. forces, Shields stepped up.
Returning to camp after taking out the gun, Shields was shot again, this time with the bullet that would take his life.
He was the first member of the Navy to earn the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.