Port Townsend American Legion rededicates memorial to Medal of Honor recipient Shields

PORT TOWNSEND — On June 10, 1965, Marvin Shields was building an airstrip with his Seabee team in Dong Xoai, South Vietnam, when the Viet Cong attacked.

After being wounded twice, Shields, who was a construction mechanic, carried a wounded soldier to safety and volunteered to help knock out an enemy machine gun.

Shields, who died of his wounds after he and others succeeded in destroying the gun emplacement, was awarded the Medal of Honor, the first and only Seabee to be so honored.

But before Shields made that sacrifice, he was a son, a brother, a schoolmate, a football player, a husband and a logging truck driver.

On Monday SEmD Memorial Day SEmD there will be a rededication of an interpretive sign that emphasizes Shields’ roots.

The sign is at the Marvin G. Shields American Legion Post 26 in Port Townsend.

A product of the Northwest

“He was a product of the Northwest,” said retired Navy Capt. Quentin Lewis.

“What we were trying to get is more background information about his early life up here.”

Lewis is a member of the Seabee Veterans of America group in Bangor which undertook the renovation of the interpretive sign.

To get family photographs of Shields, he met with Joan Bennett, who was married to Shields at the time of his death.

The photographs include one of Shields, who grew up on Discovery Bay, in his Port Townsend High School football uniform.

“He was named the most inspirational player,” Lewis said.

A 1958 Port Townsend High School graduate, Shields drove a logging truck and worked in a gold mine in Alaska before joining the Navy.

The renovation of the interpretive display SEmD which contains the Medal of Honor commendation and other information SEmD included painting the base of the sign and repairing a plastic glass cover that had leaked, resulting in water damage and condensation, according to Joe Carey, post commander.

On Friday, Lewis and Jim Stark, a retired Seabee commander and Vietnam veteran, installed the base of the sign with help from Carey and Nate Holmes, post senior vice commander and Nate’s son, Sam, 5.

“He’s the youngest member of the post,” Nate said.

The renovated sign is the culmination of a landscaping project that was completed after the city of Port Townsend installed the new streetscape on the first block of Water Street, Carey said.

Volunteers help with project

The post landscaping was done with the help of Dave Lindsey, who did the digging and grading, and landscape designer Karen Page. Both donated their services.

Nancy Stelow, a real estate agent, recruited volunteers to spend a Saturday planting and raking gravel.

“There were 20 people here, and 15 of them were in real estate and five were from the legion,” Carey said. “It was a true community effort.

The landscaping is part of an ongoing renovation of the post building, originally a USO hall for soldiers at Fort Worden, Carey said.

It still serves as a “home port” for visiting Navy crews, and it hosts an emergency winter shelter and a free medical clinic, both in the basement.

To raise money for improvements, the post is selling commemorative name plaques, a project that has raised $5,000, and sold raffle tickets for a commemorative rifle.

“We sold 50 tickets for $100 each in five weeks,” Carey said.

The post also did a major re-plumbing of the basement, Carey said, and has received $650 from the Community Outreach Association Shelter Team to install a water heater in the basement.

Donated by Atlas Technologies, the appliance will provide hot water for washing dishes and for a personal washing station for shelter guests, many of whom are veterans.

On the morning of Memorial Day, the post will conduct brief memorial services at Fort Worden’s military cemetery, St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery and Laurel Grove Cemetery.

The observances include the playing of taps by bugler Rick Canstellano, a gun salute and the placing of lilies on veterans’ graves.

“We shoot the guns, we honor the day, we honor the dead,” Carey said.

One of several Memorial Day observances planned around the North Olympic Peninsula, the ceremony at the post will be preceded at 11:30 a.m. by a concert of marches, patriotic songs and military hymns by the Port Townsend Summer Band, conducted by Karl Bach, which will play a medley of service songs.

The Memorial Day program, which will start at noon, will include the rededication of the sign by Lewis; the presentation of two new flags by Heather Gilden, president of the Admiralty Inlet Chapter, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and a “Toast to the Flag” recited by Fred Johnson.

The ceremony at the post will be followed by the laying of the wreath in the water and the gun salute at City Dock across the street.

The public will be invited back to the post for a buffet lunch following the ceremonies.

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