Veterans replace stolen coins at war hero's grave

GARDINER, Wash. - At a small cemetery in the town of Gardiner, a wrong has been made right.

"I feel very honored, very blessed, very loved at this point in time," said Joan Shields, as she looked at the headstone of the man she lost to the Vietnam War.

On Sunday, veterans held a ceremony to replace the special military coins that were stolen from Marvin G. Shields' graveside earlier this month.

The fallen Navy Seabee posthumously received the Medal of Honor for saving many lives during a battle in Don Zoai, South Vietnam in 1965.

Shields was 25 years old when he volunteered to take out a Viet Cong machine gun nest. He fought while wounded, rescued another wounded soldier, and kept fighting for hours. Shields later died of a gunshot wound.

He was the first member of the Navy to earn the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.

"I'm pretty sure he's sitting up there, you know, just grinning. He's gotta be grinning," said retired Seabee Bill Pletcher, who led the effort to replace the stolen coins, and hold a ceremony to honor Marvin Shields and his family.

Bill decided to do something after seeing a KOMO4News Problems Solvers report on the theft of three challenge coins from the headstone.

"Before it was even off the air, I told her I was going to fix it," remembers Bill, who was stunned to learn somebody had walked off with the brass medallions "It hurt. And it hurt a lot of my brothers."

Bill started a campaign of phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages to tell fellow veterans about the theft and his effort to replace the coins. He managed to contact a former commanding officer, who helped secure an admiral's coin to replace the one that was taken. Bill's campaign received a boost from officials at the Pentagon, who expedited the request.

The Patriot Guard Riders also offered to help once they learned about the coin theft. Members of the veteran's motorcycle club showed up at the cemetery to stand with flags in honor of Marvin Shields.

Joan Shields marveled at all Bill and the other veterans had done.

"To be able to get a coin from an admiral from the Pentagon, it's just unbelievable," Joan said. "To think that all these people came because they care about me, they care about Marvin, and they love our country. They love our country."

Other visitors to the cemetery have left coins before today's ceremony. All told, there are now more than two dozen challenge coins resting on Marvin's headstone.

Joan decided against the idea of mounting some of them to the stone with a special adhesive. She wants people to touch these symbols of respect and honor.

"When people come to visit they need to be able to pick it up, look at the other side, and try to feel what was left by the person who left it," she said.

Bill said he hopes the public now has a better understanding of how much the coins mean to veterans. He's optimistic no more will be stolen.

"That coin is a piece of us. And even if the coin is taken again, a piece of us who laid that coin down will always be here," he said. "And if we find out they get taken again we'll put them back."