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, saving soldiers from death.
For these actions, four North Olympic Peninsula residents stand in the pantheon of 3,507 military personnel who have received the Medal of Honor.
They fought in the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam.
Two died in combat, honored posthumously with this country’s most hallowed laurel.
Two lived out their days in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
• 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 east of Port Angeles, died in World War II on a small island in the Pacific.
It was his first day of combat. He grabbed a live grenade, pressing the explosive close to his stomach and saving the lives of three men.
The last survivor of Anderson’s bravery, Harry Pearce of Hanover, Kan., died in 2009 at age 87, forever grateful.
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, went to Vietnam as a mechanic in the Seabees, the Navy’s “Can Do!” mobile construction forces.
After Shields’ outpost was attacked, 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 recipient.
A display honors Shields 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, working in the Hyder, Alaska, gold mines before joining the Navy in 1962.
A construction mechanic third class, Shields was building an Army Special Forces compound in Dong Xoai, 55 miles north of Saigon, when 1,500 Viet Cong armed with flamethrowers, hand grenades and machine guns attacked the outpost.
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 answered the call.
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 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.”
Shields has been remembered in several ways:
• A Navy frigate that bore 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.
Decommissioned in 1992, it floated 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 F212, 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 2019, or about one for every nine residents.
A Tacoma native, Anderson grew up in the Agnew area, attended Macleay School and graduated from Sequim High School.
His father, Oscar, worked at a shingle company on Marine Drive in Port Angeles.
Anderson, a Port Angeles resident when he enlisted in the Marines, was a mortarman in the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific.
He died at 22, saving 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.
Anderson was 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, executive director of operations for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
What’s clear is that Anderson’s actions were truly heroic.
He died the day after tucking a live grenade into his midsection to save his fellow soldiers 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 was engraved with words that he had earned the nation’s highest honor for heroism.
Anderson’s ultimate sacrifice 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.
Due to Roth’s efforts, the historic red brick federal building at 138 W. First St. in Port Angeles was named after Anderson in 2008.
Then-6th District Congressman Norm Dicks and other federal, state, county and city officials attended the dedication ceremony.
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.
Memorabilia chronicling Anderson’s heroism is honored in one of several display cases in the federal building’s lobby, courtesy of the Clallam County Historical Society.
Discrepancies persist over Anderson’s death.
Did the grenade actually slip from his hands?
Or had the pin already been removed from the grenade when he threw it from the 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,” it adds.
Two of the three Marines said the explosive slipped from Anderson’s hands.
Pearce would recall that day in one of many yearly telephone interviews from his home in Kansas with the PDN in observance of Veterans Day.
He insisted Anderson was sure-handed.
Hunkered down in a shell hole and pressed against the crater’s edge, Pearce said he saw Anderson remove the lid from a two-grenade canister and turn it upside-down to jar 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 said Anderson never pulled the pin, speculating the canister contained a live grenade or the pin fell out as Anderson opened the canister.
After the explosive 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 often wondered how Anderson’s life would have turned out.
“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 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 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
Bishop, first a private, was promoted to corporal in Company C, 57th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
He received the Medal of Honor in 1864 for “capture of flag,” according to his citation, from Confederate forces in the Battle of Spotsylvania, in Pennsylvania, among the bloodiest encounters 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, in an earlier interview.
“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].”
Union troops numbering 20,000 converged in May 1864 at a place called The Bloody Angle, racing across the length of two football fields to confront the Confederates.
The soldiers fought hand to hand, bayonet to bayonet, bullet to bullet for 20 hours.
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 was eaten 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, later 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.
When he died at 96, he was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War.
Thaddeus S. Smith
During the battleof 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 citation.
A place is reserved for Civil War veterans in Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Townsend.
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.
Smith’s medal was one of 64 Medals of Honor issued 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 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.”
Smith and the others returned to their regiment with 12 prisoners.
Smith and his five comrades received Medals of Honor.
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, Smith homesteaded in the Leland Valley 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, Smith “saw the sailing ships here at the height of the heyday,” according to his obituary, which said, “In his younger days, he was a talented orator and entered vigorously into political campaigns.”
Smith lived in Jefferson County for about 50 years.
He was survived by his wife, Lottie.
Robichaux said he looked forward to visiting Smith’s gravesite 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.