PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. -- I loved him dearly.
They were high school sweethearts in Port Townsend. He was a son of the Olympic Peninsula. But in 1965 the Vietnam War took Marvin Shields from his wife after just 2-1/2 years of marriage.
He died as he lived, for his friends, said Joan Shields-Bennett, standing by her late husband s grave Thursday.
A proud member of the Navy s Construction Batallion or SeaBees, Shields endured a seven-hour firefight, much of it while wounded, as he battled to save his fellow sailors and take out an enemy machine gun nest. He eventually succumbed to his wounds and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. To this day, his is the only Navy SeaBee ever to receive that recognition.
Shields could ve been buried with other war heroes at Arlington National Cemetery, but his widow chose the Gardiner Cemetery near his hometown.
He belonged in these woods where he d hunted, and in front of Discovery Bay where used to fish. This was his home, she said.
That home has been violated.
Shield s heroism is legendary among the SeaBees. Over the years people have left mementos at his grave, but last week someone stole several unique challenge coins, which are a symbol of respect and coveted among military members.
Fellow SeaBee Josh Cooper heard about what happened and came to pay homage Thursday.
The disrespect burned as the 15-year veteran from Bremerton wiped tears from his eyes.
I shouldn t be here today, he said. But we stick up for each other. SeaBees are a small family. We gotta be there to help one when they re down.
Instead of simply accepting defeat, however, these folks are doing what Shields himself would ve done: fighting back. This time using the armaments of love.
Fellow Vietnam Veteran Mark Schildknect didn t know the Shields family, but he did know he had a duty to fulfill.
These coins are more valuable than gold, he said.
The Marine left his own challenge coin at the grave.
Something told me to make a right and maybe that would erase a wrong, he said.
It s a challenge to the thieves to return what they took, and for others to honor the sailor s legacy by placing new coins at his final resting place in a way befitting a true American hero.
All I really want is respect and honor for him, said Shields-Bennet. Respect for the SeaBees and for ourselves.
The coins have little monetary value. Shields-Bennett doesn t think the thief has any idea of the sentimental value. She s hoping whoever took them will put them back, no questions asked.