EDITOR’S NOTE: This column by PDN Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb first appeared Nov. 10, 2000. We print an updated version every Veterans Day.
A BATTLE FLAG captured, a sharpshooters’ nest overtaken, a hand grenade clutched to the stomach, a machine gun nest knocked out and soldiers’ lives saved …
For these actions, four North Olympic Peninsula residents are in the pantheon of 3,506 military personnel who have received the Medal of Honor.
They fought in the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam.
Two of the four died in combat and were honored posthumously with this country’s most hallowed military accolade.
Two lived out their days on the Peninsula.
• Francis Bishop, a Union Army soldier, captured a Confederate flag at the Battle of Spotsylvania.
After the Civil War, he lived in Port Angeles with hundreds of other veterans whose military pensions helped keep the city afloat.
• Thaddeus S. Smith, an Army corporal, flushed out a sharpshooters’ nest at the Battle of Gettysburg.
He later homesteaded in Jefferson County’s Leland Valley before retiring to Port Townsend.
• Richard B. Anderson, who grew up in the Agnew area between Port Angeles and Sequim, died in World War II on a small island in the Pacific.
On his first day of combat, he grabbed a live grenade, pressed the grenade close to his stomach to protect his Marine comrades and saved the lives of three men.
The lone remaining survivor of Anderson’s bravery, Harry Pearce of Hanover, Kan., died in 2009 at age 87.
The federal building in Port Angeles was renamed the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building in 2008 in Anderson’s honor.
• Marvin G. Shields, a Port Townsend native, was a mechanic when he went to Vietnam as a Seabee, the Navy’s mobile construction forces.
When his outpost came under attack, he carried a critically wounded man to safety, was himself wounded, then helped knock out a Viet Cong machine gun emplacement.
He was the first member of the Navy to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War — and the only Seabee so honored.
A display honoring Shields is outside the Marvin G. Shields Memorial American Legion Post 26 in Port Townsend.
Marvin Glenn Shields
LANKY, EASYGOING, with an infectious smile, Shields was 25 when he was killed in Vietnam on June 10, 1965.
He is buried in the small, rural Gardiner Community Cemetery.
His grave overlooks Discovery Bay.
The marker says:
He died as he lived, for his friends.
Born Dec. 30, 1939, Shields graduated from Port Townsend High School in 1958.
He worked in the gold mines of Hyder, Alaska, before joining the Navy in 1962.
A construction mechanic third class, the Seabee was building an Army Special Forces compound in Dong Xoai, 55 miles north of Saigon, when 1,500 Viet Cong attacked the outpost armed with flame throwers, hand grenades and machine guns.
Picking up a rifle, he returned enemy fire and supplied ammunition to the other defenders.
Wounded twice, he carried a severely wounded soldier out of danger.
When the compound commander asked for a volunteer to help knock out a machine-gun emplacement, Shields stepped forward.
The machine-gun nest “was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire,” according to his Medal of Honor citation.
“Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission.”
Armed with a rocket launcher, he and Lt. Charles Q. Williams of Vance, S.C., destroyed the emplacement, “thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound,” according to the citation.
While returning to safety, Shields was wounded a third time — fatally.
Williams also was wounded but survived — and received the Medal of Honor, too.
Dong Xoai was a charred ruin after the attack — but the attackers were turned back, and the American base held.
At Shields’ funeral services, an honor guard of Marines fired a volley over his grave, followed by the sounding of taps.
The American flag that draped his casket was folded and presented to his wife, Joan, and his 1-year-old daughter, Barbara Diane.
“The courage and daring of Seabee Marvin Shields indicates that every hero does not wear an infantryman’s badge or pilot a fighting plane,” Donald L. and Helen K. Ross wrote in their book, “Washington State Men of Valor.”
“Some are forced to exchange the tools of construction for those of destruction — a hammer for a gun — as was Marvin Shields.”
Shields’ Medal of Honor was bestowed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.
The citation noted Shields’ “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty… .”
The citation said Shields’ “heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”
He has been remembered in several ways:
• A Navy frigate that bears Shields’ name was built at Todd Pacific Shipyards Corp. — now Vigor Shipyards — in Seattle and saw service off Vietnam.
The USS Marvin Shields won a combat action ribbon in 1972 and a Navy Unit Commendation in 1991 during Desert Storm, the first Gulf war.
It was decommissioned in 1992, floating next to the famed World War II battleship USS Missouri in Bremerton before being transferred in 1997 to Mexico.
It was renamed the ARM Mariano Abasolo, and after extensive refits entered active service in the Mexican Navy.
• On the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., Shields’ name is engraved on Panel 02E, Row 007.
• The bachelor enlisted quarters at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is named for Shields.
• Shields is honored by a plaque at the base of a flagpole at a Port Townsend overlook.
• The Marvin G. Shields Memorial American Legion Post 26 in Port Townsend is located at 209 Monroe St.
The post’s memorial to him is just outside the main building.
Shields’ Medal of Honor was one of 259 bestowed on servicemen for action during the Vietnam War. Like Shields, most died as a result of their heroism.
Richard B. Anderson
UNTIL 2001, when a plaque in Port Angeles was dedicated in his honor, Anderson was Clallam County’s forgotten hero — and this, according to the U.S. Census, in a county with about 9,000 veterans as of 2012, or about one for every eight residents.
(The 6th Congressional District — Olympic Peninsula, most of the Kitsap Peninsula and most of Tacoma — has the third highest percentage [13 percent] of veterans by population in the nation.)
A Tacoma native, Anderson grew up in the Agnew area, attended Macleay School and graduated from Sequim High School.
His father, Oscar, worked at what was then the Barron Shingle Co. on Marine Drive in Port Angeles.
Anderson was living in Port Angeles when he enlisted in the Marines, ending up as a mortarman in the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific.
Anderson, 22, died saving Harry Pearce and two other Marines in a shell crater at the edge of a contested airfield on the island of Roi Namur on Feb. 1, 1944.
He lost his life the same day he arrived for combat, and in doing so became one of 464 Americans who received this nation’s highest honor in World War II.
How unusual is it that a person on the first day of combat exhibits Medal-of-Honor bravery, dying in the process?
“There is no way of saying how common it is,” said Victoria Kueck, director of operations for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
What’s clear is that Anderson’s actions were truly heroic.
He tucked a live grenade into his midsection just before it exploded.
He died the next day and was buried in Tacoma, where his parents moved after he enlisted.
He was among 12 Medal of Honor recipients in the 4th Marine Division.
Anderson was honored in a ceremony conducted by the Sequim VFW in 1984.
But it wasn’t until 1997, more than 50 years after his death, that his gravestone in the New Tacoma Cemetery indicated that he received the nation’s highest honor for heroism.
His ultimate sacrifice also went largely unnoticed in Port Angeles until four more years passed.
The late Terry Roth of Port Angeles, a former Marine and veterans’ advocate, raised more than $5,000 for Anderson’s memorial in Port Angeles’ Veterans Park.
It was dedicated on Memorial Day 2001.
After a long effort by Roth, the historic red brick federal building at 138 W. First St. in Port Angeles was named after Anderson in 2008.
Those in attendance at the ceremonies included then-Congressman Norm Dicks and other federal, state, county and city officials.
Anderson’s sister, Mary Anderson-Roderick of Port Angeles and Everett, entrusted Roth with her brother’s Medal of Honor, stipulating in a letter to Roth that “it not be left on a dusty shelf in the back room of a museum,” Roth said.
The Clallam County Historical Society has put up memorabilia chronicling Anderson’s heroism in one of several display cases in the federal building’s lobby.
Discrepancies persist on the circumstances of Anderson’s death.
Did a live grenade slip from his hands?
Or was he unable to hurl a grenade from which the pin had already been removed when he opened the grenade canister?
“Anderson was preparing to throw a grenade at an enemy position when it slipped from his hands and rolled toward the men at the bottom of the hole,” says Anderson’s medal citation, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Anderson “hurled his body on the grenade,” the citation adds.
Two of the three Marines said the grenade slipped from Anderson’s hands.
Pearce recalled that day in one of many yearly telephone interviews from his home in Kansas with the PDN in observance of Veterans Day.
Pearce, in the shell hole, insisted up to a month before his death in 2009 that Anderson never fumbled the grenade.
Pressed against the crater’s edge, Pearce saw Anderson take the lid off a two-grenade canister and turn it upside-down, apparently to shake them out.
Pearce turned away, then looked back.
“I looked down in the hole, and [Anderson] had a live grenade in his hand,” Pearce said.
“He threw it over his shoulder. It didn’t clear the shell hole and rolled right back to him.”
Pearce maintains that Anderson never pulled the pin, that instead the canister contained a live grenade without a pin, or the pin fell out as Anderson opened the canister.
After the grenade rolled back, “he gathered it into his belly and yelled, ‘Oh, my God,’ and those were his last three words, and that was it,” Pearce said.
“He gave me a chance to live.
“I think he did it instinctively and gave it no thought.
“He did what he wanted to do, what he thought he had to do to protect others.”
Pearce said he often wonders what Anderson’s life would have been like had he survived the war.
“He was a good-looking guy,” Pearce said. “I imagine he would have married and had a family, but these things you never know.”
A weathered photo of Pearce’s younger self hangs in the Clallam County Historical Society display in the Richard B. Anderson building.
“I take time out every day to give thanks for what Richard did on my behalf,” Pearce said Nov. 11, 2009, barely louder than a whisper a month before he died.
“I call it my second chance.”
Pearce’s written account of what happened is at www.vietnamproject.ttu.edu, sponsored by Texas Tech University, home of The Vietnam Archive, the largest repository of Vietnam War artifacts outside of federal government facilities.
A destroyer named after Anderson and launched in 1945 had among its first crew members Machinist’s Mate Robert L. Anderson, Richard’s brother.
It was sold to Taiwan in 1977 and decommissioned in 1999.
Francis A. Bishop
A PRIVATE, LATER promoted to corporal, in Company C, 57th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, Bishop received the Medal of Honor in 1864, according to the citation, for “capture of flag” from Confederate forces in the Battle of Spottsylvania, Va., among the bloodiest of the war.
Capturing a flag or carrying one unscathed through battle was among the most common reasons for bestowing a Medal of Honor during the Civil War, according to the PBS documentary “Medal of Honor.”
“A lot of people would say that if you capture a flag, you would not win a medal today,” said Ken Richmond, an amateur Civil War historian from Jefferson County.
“But you have to remember, a unit’s flag was its point of reference.
“When it moved forward, a 1,000-man regiment moved forward.
“When it was no longer there, the whole unit fell apart. Basically, everyone is shooting at you [the flag-bearer].”
At Spottsylvania, 20,000 Union troops converged in May 1864 at a place called The Bloody Angle, racing across the length of two football fields to confront their Confederate counterparts.
For more than 20 hours, soldiers fought hand-to-hand, bayonet-to-bayonet.
A tree at The Bloody Angle was made famous, its stump immortalized in the Smithsonian Institution.
At the beginning of the battle, the trunk was 22 inches around.
By the battle’s end, it had been sawed in half — by small-arms fire.
In 1892, almost three decades after the end of the Civil War, Bishop and about 200 other veterans and their families moved from Michigan to Clallam County.
The Union veterans post in Port Angeles was one of the largest in the country.
Their $6-to-$8 monthly pension checks — and earnings at what was known as the Grand Army of the Republic sawmill — helped keep Port Angeles afloat for several years.
Bishop lived for three decades in Port Angeles, moving to Port Orchard in Kitsap County after his wife’s death.
He is buried in Blanchard, Mich.
According to his obituary in the Oct. 14, 1937, Port Angeles Evening News, predecessor newspaper to the Peninsula Daily News, Bishop shrugged his shoulders when someone asked about his heroism — and suggested he killed many men to capture the Dixie flag.
“It was nothing at all,” Bishop said.
“We were going into action, marched all night, Johnny colors were there and took them; nothing else we could do.”
Bishop was among 1,523 Civil War soldiers who received the Medal of Honor.
According to his obituary, when he died at 96, he was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War.
Thaddeus S. Smith
DURING THE BATTLE of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, Smith “was one of six volunteers who charged up upon a log house near the Devil’s Den, where a squad of the enemy’s sharpshooters were sheltered, and compelled their surrender,” according to his Medal of Honor citation.
A place is reserved for Civil War veterans in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Townsend that a half-dozen veterans visited annually to pay their respects, Robey Robichaux of Port Townsend, a retired Puget Sound ship’s pilot and Army sergeant during the Vietnam War, said in an earlier interview.
Smith died March 14, 1933, at age 85 in his Port Townsend home at 1207 Blaine St.
He was the last surviving member of the Civil War veterans who comprised Port Townsend’s Farragut Post, Grand Army of the Republic.
But there seems to be no photos of him in the historical archives.
Smith’s medal was one of 64 Medals of Honor awarded for heroism at Gettysburg.
With 51,000 casualties, it was the war’s bloodiest battle.
A corporal in Company E, 6th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry, the Franklin County, Pa., native and his fellow Union soldiers were fighting Confederate forces when they saw fire coming from sharpshooters holed up in a log cabin on the regiment’s flank, according to www.homeofheroes.com, a website devoted to Medal of Honor recipients.
Smith joined three sergeants and two other corporals in storming the snipers’ nest.
“The six men moved stealthily toward the cabin, but were soon discovered by the rebels and came under heavy fire.
“Bravely, they ignored the danger and rushing forward, knocked down the barricades in front of the door and overwhelmed the enemy [who then surrendered].”
Smith and the others returned to their regiment with 12 prisoners.
Smith and his five comrades received Medals of Honor.
Smith was later captured by Confederates.
He was imprisoned in the infamous Andersonville prison, escaped, was recaptured and returned to Andersonville, according to his March 16, 1933, obituary in the Port Townsend Leader weekly newspaper.
After the war, he homesteaded in the Leland Valley, about 7 miles south of Discovery Bay in Jefferson County, where he bought several tracts of land near Lake Hooker (today Lake Leland).
He later moved to Port Townsend.
As a boarding officer for the Customs Service, he “saw the sailing ships here at the height of the heyday,” according to his obituary, which added:
“In his younger days, he was a talented orator and entered vigorously into political campaigns.”
He lived in Jefferson County for about 50 years.
Smith was survived by his wife, Lottie.
Robichaux said he looked forward to visiting Smith’s grave site every year.
“We go there because of the uniqueness, because of the respect, because of the sacred part of the cemetery that’s devoted to the Civil War veterans,” Robichaux said.
“That particular grave site gets no attention, so it’s important that I appear there and observe and reflect that veterans aren’t just today or in my generation, they go way back to Corporal Smith.
“There’s history there. There’s years of history. It’s unique. It’s something I look forward to.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at [email protected].