By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“I just, I felt an urge,” Schildknecht said. “So I just got up, got in my uniform, and my wife and I went out and left a coin on his headstone.”
The veteran of two tours in Vietnam placed a challenge coin with the Marines' traditional eagle, globe and anchor logo on one side and an image of St. Michael on the other at the base of Shields' grave Tuesday.
Coins left by Navy Seabees at Shields' grave over the past several years were stolen last week.
“It was such a thoughtless act, just so shameful, I felt I had to do whatever I could to make up for it,” Schildknecht said.
Shields was awarded the Medal of Honor after he was killed at the age of 25 while taking out a Viet Cong machine gun nest after saving the lives of other members of his battalion in 1965.
A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields is the only member of the Seabees — shorthand for the Navy Construction Battalion — to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
“The man was one of our real heroes,” Schildknecht said of Shields.
Seabees commemorate Shields' death every Veterans Day at the Gardiner Cemetery.
Many have left behind challenge coins, which are small medallions created by various military units to mark their participation in a campaign.
The three stolen coins were all specially minted by Mobile Construction Battalion 11 with Shields' face on one side and the Seabee emblem on the other.
One was left by a Navy admiral, according to Shields' widow, Joan Bennett of Gardiner.
Schildknecht is a bit of a local hero himself.
In May, he was awarded a Clallam County Community Service Award for his volunteer efforts with Clallam County Fire District No. 2, the county sheriff's Marine Patrol and Sequim's Volunteers in Police Service Program.
Schildknecht is also active in the Mount Olympus Marine Corps League Detachment 897 and the detachment's honor guard.
The honor guard provides rifle salutes and plays taps at veteran memorial services, attending 60 last year across Clallam County.
The guard has played at memorial tributes to Shields at the Gardiner Cemetery in past years.
A ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Shields' death is planned for next June.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.