By: Julius Lacano
Historian, US Navy Seabee Museum
Among the hundreds of thousands of men and women that have served in the Seabees, there are two men who have become legends due to their courage, personal valor, and devotion to duty. Marvin Shields and Robert Stethem came from very different backgrounds, but each gave their lives for this nation. This is the first installment of a two-part series and discusses Marvin Shields.
Marvin Glenn Shields was born in Port Townsend, Washington on December 30, 1939. After graduating High School, and after a stint working at a gold mine in Alaska, Shields joined the Navy on January 8, 1962. After basic training and apprenticeship training, he reported to the Naval Construction Training Center in Port Hueneme, California for training to be a Construction Mechanic. After graduation, Shields was assigned to Company A, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 and was deployed to Okinawa between September 1963 and November 1964.
Shields then was selected to become a member of Seabee Team 1104, a special Seabee unit consisting of ten Seabees and one officer. Seabee Team 1104 arrived in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam on February 1, 1965, where their first assignment was constructing a U.S. Army Special Forces camp at Ben Soi. In May 1965, the team was tasked with assisting in the repair and construction of a compound for U.S Army Special Forces, Seabees, Montagnard fighters, and South Vietnamese Army troops at Ððng Xoài, some 55 miles northwest of Saigon.
On the night of June 9, 1965, the camp, which was still under construction, was attacked and mortared by over 2,000 uniformed cadres of the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong). Shields, despite being wounded by the mortars raining down on the compound, assisted the Special Forces soldiers by bringing up badly needed ammunition to the firing line. Shields, who was once again wounded by shrapnel and shot in the jaw, then helped carry the badly wounded commander of the camp to a relatively safer position. Despite his weakened and exhausted state, Shields volunteered to assist the acting base commander to destroy an enemy machine gun position that threatened the entire compound. Armed with a 3.5 inch rocket launcher, the two men managed to destroy the machine gun, saving many lives, and while returning back, were both wounded in the legs. Shields, despite his wounds, continued to hand ammo to his comrades, told jokes, and did all he could to encourage the men that were still engaged in heavy fighting. Though evacuated by helicopter along with five other wounded Seabees, his wounds would prove mortal and he would die en route to Saigon.
For his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Construction Mechanic Third Class Marvin Glenn Shields was posthumously presented this nation’s highest military decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor, on September 13, 1966. The award was presented to Shield’s widow Joan and their daughter Barbara, who was accompanied by his father, mother, and brother, by President Lyndon Baines Johnson at the White House. He is buried at Gardiner Cemetery in Gardiner, Washington and has his name listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 02E, Row 007. The Knox-Class Frigate USS Marvin Shields (FF-1066) was also named in his honor.
Discover more at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum
For what battle was Marvin Shields awarded the Medal of Honor?
Did the USS Marvin Shields (FF-1066) serve in another nation’s navy? If so, which?
To whom did President Johnson present Shield’s Medal of Honor?