Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Honor Posthumously to Petty Officer Marvin G. Shields, USN

September 13, 1966

Mrs. Shields, Secretary Nitze, Barbara, the delegation, ladies and gentlemen:

A little over a year ago, 50 miles north of Saigon, a 14-hour battle raged fought by a small Special Forces team, a Navy Seabee Construction team, and Vietnamese troops, against an enemy which outnumbered them 5 to 1.

Nineteen American fighting men received citations for their valor in that battle.

The Seabee team earned a Navy Unit Citation.

Every man who fought on that long day was a hero.

But two men in particular stood out for the bravery they displayed.

One, Army Lieutenant Charles Williams, returned from Vietnam and received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The other, on whom we confer that Medal today, did not return. He was Petty Officer Marvin Glen Shields.

The story of that day in that distant village is a story of his courage. At the very height of battle, he was everywhere--fighting with contagious zeal, helping his wounded comrades even after he was gravely wounded.

By his acts that day, Marvin Shields saved the lives of many of his comrades. He gave and kept on giving--until he gave what Lincoln called the "last full measure of devotion."

Marvin Shields was a new kind of fighting man, forged and tempered in a new kind of war.

It is, first of all, a war of limited objectives. It is a war fought, not to gain territory or dominion, but to prove that despots cannot work their will by spreading the fires of violence.

In this war, the battlelines are not clear. But our goals are very clear. We intend to prevent the success of aggression. We intend to make it possible for a young nation to begin its experiment with democracy-without staring down the barrel of an aggressor's gun.

Such a war requires the full measure of physical courage which Marvin Shields displayed.

But it requires more. It demands, of all of us, a new kind of courage: the fortitude to endure a long and bitter and sometimes confusing struggle; it requires the patient courage to seek something more than a swift and terrible military triumph.

There are those who ask if such a struggle is worth the lives of our young men. To them, I say: study the answer which this man gave. Study the answer which other Americans are giving.

These men are fighting with one hand-and they are building with the other. They are building schools and hospitals. They are building bridges and dams. They are building dikes and roads. They are caring for the sick and injured.

That is the kind of victory we seek.

We do not know when that victory will come. But surely the first long mile was reached on Sunday when 4,200,000 South Vietnamese citizens--more than 80 percent of that little country's registered voters-marched to the polls without fear to elect members of the constituent assembly. They gave us a lasting lesson in democracy.

In honoring Marvin Shields here in the White House today, we honor thousands like him. This is the first time in history that a Seabee has ever been awarded the Medal of Honor.

It does little good to offer up words of tribute to such a man as this one. Even the best words seem very pale in the light of his great gift to us.

But we do owe him these words, and I am going to say them:

Marvin Shields spent his life generously for his country and for his friends. His cause was a good cause. Our debt is a great debt.

Note: The President spoke at 12 noon in his office at the White House. His opening words referred to Mrs. Marvin G. Shields, Secretary of the Navy Paul Nitze, and the Shields' daughter Barbara Diane. Later he referred to Lt. Charles Q. Williams, USA, who was awarded the Medal of Honor on June 23, 1966 (see Item 288).

The text of the citation accompanying the award to Petty Officer Shields follows:

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously to


for service as set forth in the following


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with United States Navy Seabee Team 1104 at Dong Xoai, Republic of Vietnam, on 10 June 1965. Although wounded when the compound of Detachment A-342, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, came under intense fire from an estimated reinforced Viet Cong regiment employing machine guns, heavy weapons and small arms, Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans with needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire. Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed tiring at the enemy for four more hours. When the Commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machine-gun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission. Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machine-gun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound. Shields was mortally wounded by hostile fire while returning to his defensive position. His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.


Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Presenting the Medal of Honor Posthumously to Petty Officer Marvin G. Shields, USN Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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