GARDINER — More than 100 community members, local veterans and members of the Army and Navy stationed in the Puget Sound gathered at the Gardiner cemetery to honor Marvin G. Shields, the only Navy Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor.
The ceremony has been held at Shields’ graveside every year on Veterans Day for over a decade, according to Leslie Yuenger, public affairs officer for Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Northwest.
“As I get older, I think these gatherings mean more to me,” said Joan Shields Bennett, Shields’ widow.
“As I see our county in some trouble now it’s more important for the public to know there are men who sacrifice everything for the freedom we know.”
Petty Officer 3rd Class Marvin G. Shields received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions during a battle in Dong Xoai in Vietnam on June 10, 1965.
Shields was born in Port Townsend in 1939 and graduated from Port Townsend High School in 1958. Shields joined the Navy in 1962. He was 25 when he died.
“The Medal of Honor is our nation’s highest honor and is most often awarded posthumously as we see here today,” said Capt. Christopher Kurgan, commanding officer of NAVFAC Northwest.
“I noted last year, but I think it’s worth repeating, that no one aspires to win the Medal of Honor. I think when it’s done it’s done out of love.”
In the battle in June 1965, Shields was wounded when his camp was ambushed by the 272nd Vietcong Regiment with an estimated 2,000 Vietcong soldiers, according to Tim Willett, the master of ceremonies at Saturday’s event.
Shields was wounded early on but continued to resupply his fellow soldiers with ammunition, carried one more critically wounded soldier out of harms way and volunteered to help his commanding officer destroy an enemy machine gun that posed a threat to his fellow soldiers, according to Willett.
Armed with a rocket launcher, Shields and his commanding officer successfully took out the enemy machine gun, but Shields was mortally wounded by enemy fire while attempting to return to his defensive post.
Shields is one of 3,498 Medal of Honor recipients since the American Civil War. He is one of 53 recipients in Washington state and one of four from the Olympic Peninsula. Shields in the only Seabee to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor and one of two Seabees with a ship named in his honor.
“Marvin’s actions are well known among Seabees,” said Rear Admiral John Korka, commander of NAVFAC Pacific.
Korka presented an American flag crafted from wood to Bennett and her family. The flag was made in just a day by a Seabee stationed in Washington, D.C., for Korka to bring to Saturday’s ceremony.
“That Seabee told me he joined the Navy because of Marvin Shields,” Korka said. “He touches Seabees even today.”
Korka said those who served with Shields described him as a positive person, often carrying around his guitar and keeping his fellow soldiers in good spirits.
“It says on his grave ‘he died as he lived, for his friends,’” said Korka. “Marvin is a remarkable example for all of us.”
“It is my prayer that we reflect on a life well lived and a sacrifice given,” said Chaplin Peter Ott of NAS Whidbey Island.
Ott said in a time with divisive rhetoric that makes it easy to see those who disagree with you as an enemy, he encouraged people to support their troops and their communities.
“So the United States continues to be a beacon of hope and freedom,” Ott said. “So the sacrifice of our shipmate not be in vain.”
Bennett closed out Saturday’s event by thanking all those in attendance, especially those who had served or served today in uniform.
“You don’t have to give your life,” Bennett said. “You already give your life everyday. You are what makes this county great.”
Bennett hugged almost everyone who attended Saturday’s event, many of whom are now familiar faces since they have attended for multiple years.
“I’m basically their grandmother,” Bennett said. “I’ve been assured that when I’m gone they will continue this, which is a relief.
“I learned so much from Marvin and yes, I suffered. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but I think my job now is letting people know the important job these people do.”