By Mark Miller
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GARDINER — At a small cemetery in the town of Gardiner, a wrong has been made right.
“I feel very honored, very blessed, very loved at this point in time,” said Joan Shields Bennett, as she looked at the headstone of the man she lost to the Vietnam War.
On Sunday, veterans held a ceremony to replace the military challenge coins that were stolen from Marvin G. Shields' gravesite in August.
The fallen Navy Seabee posthumously received the Medal of Honor for saving many lives during a battle in Don Zoai, South Vietnam, in 1965.
Shields was 25 years old when he volunteered to take out a Viet Cong machine gun nest.
He fought while wounded, rescued another wounded soldier and kept fighting for hours. Shields later died of a gunshot wound.
He was the first member of the Navy to earn the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.
“I'm pretty sure he's sitting up there, you know, just grinning. He's gotta be grinning,” said retired Seabee Bill Pletcher, who led the effort to replace the stolen coins and hold a ceremony to honor Shields and his family.
Pletcher decided to do something after seeing a KOMO4 report on the theft of three challenge coins from the headstone, first reported by the Peninsula Daily News.
“Before it was even off the air, I told her I was going to fix it,” said Pletcher, who was stunned to learn somebody had walked off with the brass medallions
“It hurt. And it hurt a lot of my brothers.”
Pletcher started a campaign of phone calls, emails and Facebook messages to tell fellow veterans about the theft and his effort to replace the coins.
He managed to contact a former commanding officer, who helped secure an admiral's coin to replace the one that was taken.
Pletcher's campaign received a boost from officials at the Pentagon, who expedited the request.
The Patriot Guard Riders also offered to help once they learned about the coin theft.
Members of the veterans' motorcycle club showed up at the cemetery to stand with flags in honor of Shields.
Bennett marveled at all Pletcher and the other veterans had done.
“To be able to get a coin from an admiral from the Pentagon, it's just unbelievable,” Bennett said.
“To think that all these people came because they care about me, they care about Marvin and they love our country. They love our country.”
Other visitors to the cemetery had left coins before Sunday's ceremony.
All told, there are now more than two dozen challenge coins resting on Shields' headstone.
Bennett decided against the idea of mounting some of them to the stone with a special adhesive.
She wants people to touch these symbols of respect and honor.
“When people come to visit, they need to be able to pick it up, look at the other side and try to feel what was left by the person who left it,” she said.
Pletcher said he hopes the public now has a better understanding of how much the coins mean to veterans. He's optimistic no more will be stolen.
“That coin is a piece of us. And even if the coin is taken again, a piece of us who laid that coin down will always be here,” he said.
“And if we find out they get taken again, we'll put them back.”
KOMO Video Link — http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Veterans-replace-stolen-coins-at-war-heros-grave-273408151.html