President Lyndon B. Johnson awards Marvin Glenn Shields the Medal of Honor posthumously on September 13, 1966.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 12/30/2014
  • Essay 10928
On September 13, 1966, at a White House ceremony, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) awards the Medal of Honor posthumously to Construction Mechanic Third Class Marvin Shields (1939-1965). Shields's widow, Joan Shields (b. 1944), and father, William Glenn Shields (1918-1998), receive the award. Also in attendance is Marvin Shields's daughter, Barbara Diane (b. 1964). His heroic actions alongside Second Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams (1933-1982) saved many lives, and Second Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams also receives the Medal of Honor. On June 9, 1965, a reinforced Viet Cong regiment attacked an American special-forces camp under construction at Dong Xoai, South Vietnam. A Seabee team that included Construction Mechanic Third Class Marvin Glenn Shields was assisting the special forces in building the camp. During the 14-hour siege of the camp, Shields carried ammunition to camp defenders, recovered a seriously wounded man, and was twice wounded himself. Despite his wounds, he volunteered to assist Lieutenant Williams in firing a rocket launcher to destroy an enemy machine gun. They destroyed the machine gun position. While returning to camp, Marvin Shields was fatally wounded.

Growing Up on Discovery Bay

Marvin Glenn Shields was born in Port Townsend. The Shields family lived near Port Townsend on Discovery Bay in Gardiner, Washington. Marvin Shields often made boat trips to islands in the bay and camped out. He attended Port Townsend High School and graduated in 1958.

Following graduation he went to Hyder, Alaska, to work for the Mineral Basin Mining Company, a gold mining project started by a Port Townsend company. He returned to Washington and in 1962 joined the navy to become a Seabee, serving at bases in Georgia, Okinawa, and Port Hueneme, California. In February 1965, he was deployed to South Vietnam and attached to the army's 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.

Building and Fighting

Construction Mechanic Third Class Shields was assigned to Seabee Team 1104 of the Mobile Construction Battalion 11 (MCB-11) that was assisting the army's special forces in construction of a camp at Dong Xoai in the Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam. The team of nine Seabees and special-forces soldiers was building a runway when the camp and Dong Xoai district town came under attack by Viet Cong forces. The camp and district town were on a Viet Cong supply route from Cambodia into that region. Given its strategic location, the enemy sought to destroy the camp before it could be completed.

At approximately 11 p.m. on June 9, 1965, a reinforced Viet Cong regiment attacked the South Vietnamese troops positioned at Dong Xoai. By 11:30 p.m. the Viet Cong forces had penetrated the South Vietnamese lines and had the special forces camp under mortar and infantry attack. The Viet Cong forces laid intense fire into the camp. During the night in the camp, a bloody battle ensued. For three hours, Marvin Shields carried ammunition to his comrades as they held off the enemy. Moving from position he came under direct fire and was wounded. After about three hours the Viet Cong launched a massive assault with flamethrowers, grenades, and automatic fire. Marvin Shields was wounded again.

Despite his wounds, he recovered a more seriously wounded soldier. Another four hours of close combat followed. During the battle, the special forces commanding officer was seriously wounded, and Second Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams took command. He rushed from position to position, encouraging his troops to keep fighting. Lieutenant Williams observed that an enemy machine gun was causing great harm. He asked for a volunteer to assist him with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher to take out the enemy gun. Shields volunteered and loaded the rocket launcher as Williams fired it.

They destroyed the Viet Cong machine gun and pulled back within the camp interior. While returning, Marvin Shields was fatally wounded.

Air attacks and artillery fire were called in on the Viet Cong massing outside the camp to prevent a final assault. The fighting went on all night but the defenders held their positions. The next morning, efforts to reinforce the camp by inserting South Vietnamese and American troops failed as the Viet Cong destroyed one helicopter, killing the soldiers aboard. The enemy also intercepted South Vietnamese reinforcements, destroying the effort to save the camp. One American helicopter made a safe landing and evacuated the wounded from the camp.

During the day, artillery and air strikes hit the Viet Cong forces. Additional South Vietnamese forces were inserted into the battle but were destroyed. On June 11, 1965, South Vietnamese forces were able to reach the defenders but the Viet Cong had withdrawn into the jungle north of Dong Xoai. American casualties were 19 dead and many wounded.

The Medal of Honor

Construction Mechanic Shields saved the lives of a number of his comrades through his heroic actions. On September 13, 1966, at a White House ceremony, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded his Medal of Honor to Marvin Shields's widow, Joan Shields, and father, William Glenn Shields. Also in attendance was Shields's daughter, Barbara Diane (b. 1964).

Second Lieutenant Charles Q. Williams was the second recipient of the Medal of Honor from the battle at Dong Xoai. Construction Mechanic Shields was the first navy man to receive the Medal of Honor in Vietnam and the only Seabee to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Remembering Marvin Glenn Shields

Marvin Shields was laid to rest at the Gardiner Cemetery overlooking Discovery Bay. Since 2000 there have been annual Veterans Day memorials at his grave. They have been attended by Seabees and naval personnel. His widow, Joan (Shields) Bennett, has participated in these graveside remembrances. The American Legion post in Port Townsend, housed in a former World War II United Services Organization building, is named in his honor. A sign outside the hall relates his life. A roadside memorial in Port Townsend also honors him and a Seabee camp on Okinawa was named for him.

The U.S.S. Marvin G. Shields, a destroyer escort, was built at Todd Pacific Shipyards, Seattle, and launched in October 1969. Marvin Shields's mother, Victoria Cassalery (1921-1989), was a special guest at the launch. The ship served until July 1992, when it was decommissioned and sold to Mexico. It became a gunboat and was renamed the ARM Abasolo. A number of Seabee buildings and training facilities are named in honor of Construction Mechanic Shields. The special forces also honor him at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, at the Special Operations Monument.

Sources: Edward Murphy, Vietnam Medal of Honor Heroes (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005); "Widow of Seabee Accepts His Awards," The Seattle Times, April 7, 1966, p. 16; "Medal of Honor Presented to Widow of Seattle Hero," Ibid., September 13, 1966, p. 1; "Widow Proud of Heroic Seabee from Seattle," Ibid., p. 13; Jay Wells, "Seattle-Built Ship to Be Named for Port Townsend Man," Ibid., February 23, 1968, p. 15; Glen Carter, "Widowed Mother of a War Hero," Ibid., May 21, 1971, p. E-7; "USS Marvin Shields Launched in Seattle," Port Angeles Evening News, October 24, 1969, p. 1.
Note: These source listings were corrected and expanded on March 17, 2016.

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