By Don Rochon, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Public Affairs
GARDINER, Wash. (NNS) -- The Navy honored Construction Mechanic Third Class Marvin G. Shields, the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor, at his grave site in Gardiner, Washington when Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Northwest hosted a 50th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony, June 10.
NAVFAC Northwest Commanding Officer Mark Geronime welcomed everyone to the ceremony. "NAVFAC Northwest is fortunate to host this event, which extends the legacy of Petty Officer Shields' heroism for his country and the 19 other Americans he was stationed with at Camp Dong Xoai."
When Shields joined the Navy, he wanted to build and repair things. He was assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, where the Seabees famous motto, "we build, we fight," foretold of events that would soon take place for him and his team of Seabees in the jungles of Vietnam.
Shields and Seabee Team 1104 had been together for a few months before the overwhelming attack on their camp at Dong Xoai, recalled Frank Peterlin, former officer in charge of Seabee Team 1104.
"We had been together for four months in Vietnam, training together, and building up another camp before Dong Xoai," Peterlin said. "In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp. Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle."
Shortly before midnight on June 9, 1965, Seabee Team 1104 and the Army's 5th Special Forces Group were abruptly awakened by the sound of incoming mortars and rifle rounds; a fierce battle for the camp had begun. The Seabees and Special Forces soldiers assigned to Dong Xoai sustained many casualties in the first moments of the attack by an overwhelming number of Vietnamese soldiers.
The camp came under intense fire from the surrounding, reinforced Viet Cong regiment. Despite shrapnel wounds suffered during the initial mortar attack, Shields fought effectively in defense of the camp. While wounded, he resupplied his fellow servicemen with needed ammunition and returned the enemy's fire for approximately three hours.
Then, the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades, machine guns and small arms fire. Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nonetheless assisted in carrying the camp's critically wounded commander to safety in the compound's headquarters building, where all the Americans had now fallen back to regroup.
The headquarters building was getting pummeled, especially by a mounted, 30-caliber machine gun, which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the building because of the accuracy and ferocity of its fire.
When the acting camp commander, Army 2nd Lt. Charles Williams, asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out the enemy's machine gun emplacement, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission. Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, the two men succeeded in destroying the machine gun, undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen.
After they knocked it out of commission, Shields and Williams nearly made it back to the headquarters building, but both were struck by enemy fire on the way. Shields was mortally wounded, but was pulled inside the building by two of his buddies.
The battle continued for hours, and even though he was mortally wounded, Shields threw ammo to the other men and told jokes to keep their spirits up.
"Helping others was just automatic for him," said Peterlin. "The long and short of it is that Marvin was born to help people, and he had fun doing it."
Shields was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism on that fateful day 50 years ago in Vietnam.