GRUETLI SOLDIER JOINS PARENTS AFTER 45 YEARS
Some of you may be familiar with the Marvin Phillips story. The Gruetli, TN, soldier had been MIA in Vietnam for almost half a century.
Since the front page article in the September 1, 2011, edition of The Grundy County Herald announced that Marvin’s body had been found, and he would soon be home, it has been the main topic of discussion in the county and has drawn interest from both near and far.
The article tells the circumstances of Marvin’s disappearance, the media attention bestowed on one who gave his life in the service of his county, and the plans for a much deserved outpouring of respect and honor awaiting his homecoming. If you haven’t read it, please do so online. But what about Marvin the country boy and the times he grew up in?
If you think we have conflict and turmoil in America today, you should have lived through the 1960’s. Television was coming into its own and brought all of it into our living rooms - the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the Vietnam War with flag burning, draft card burning and division that forced President Lyndon B. Johnson not to seek another term in 1968, riots and burning in major cities, the Civil Rights Movement, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, hippies and the birth of the drug culture, the sexual revolution, and, of all things, North Korea’s capture of a U.S. Navy ship on the high seas and the holding of its crew as hostages. We could go on and on, but the decade ended with one of the greatest milestones in human history. As President Kennedy promised, the United States landed a man on the moon in 1969.
During the early 1960’s before President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” raised the living standards, Grundy County was a very poor place with many families lacking bathrooms, telephones, warm homes, and other necessities that we take for granted today. A 1962 Grundy County High School graduate told me that soon after finishing she went to work making $14 a week at the Laager Elementary School lunchroom. Newly married, “That’s what we used for grocery money”, she said.
Marvin was a 1964 GCHS graduate, and like most of us came from a working class family. Getting a diploma under difficult circumstances took grit and determination, and he was probably the first in his family to do so.
Mr. Clarence Kilgore, Jr. of Tracy City was a well-thought-of teacher at GCHS in the 1960’s and says, “I knew Marvin well. He was a good student, well behaved, and just had a good way about him. I’m sure he made a fine soldier. I also thought a lot of his sisters. One day I was told two girls were fighting in the study hall. When I got there I found that a girl had made a disparaging remark about Marvin, who was MIA at the time. The remark offended his sister and caused the fight. I fully understood. It’s sad, but sacrifices like his are what has kept us free. I’m going to try to be there for the funeral.” Mr. Kilgore is a World War II and Korean War veteran.
Janelle Layne Taylor of Pelham was a GCHS classmate and, like most everyone, remembers Marvin as a quiet, reserved, mannerly young man, who was always serious minded and fixed on the task at hand.
Billy Wade Taylor and Connie Hargis Cannon of Gruetli-Laager were also his classmates. Connie went to school with him at Victoria Elementary as well and described him as, “the nicest person, quiet and smart in school”. Billy Wade was just 16 years old when he graduated and remembers Marvin as a quiet, neatly dressed, black-headed boy who was never in any trouble”. They later had much in common as both served on helicopters in Vietnam. Billy Wade kept volunteering and was there from July 1967 – January 1970.
Back in the early 1960’s, before the Beatles’ hairstyle took hold, almost all men kept a neat haircut, and there was always someone in the community who cut hair at their home and were a lot cheaper than a regular barbershop. “Marvin used to come to our house and get Daddy (Hershel Grimes) to cut his hair,” William Grimes of Gruetli-Laager recalls. “I remember that he was particular about his hair.” Some of us were talking the other day about him coming and getting a haircut not long before he left for the Army. “ Daddy could cut hair as good as anybody.”
Larry Henry of Palmer served overseas with the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam era, but not in the country itself. “Marvin and I were first cousins. Our mothers were sisters”, he said. “I used to visit him, and we’d play in the woods and creeks and walk through the woods to Granny Davis’ house. He was very resilient.” This probably gave hope to those who knew him well that he had somehow survived after being reported MIA.
Mrs. Mike (Mary Ruth) Shadrick of Palmer is Marvin’s sister and remembers how she heard that he was MIA. “I was 15-years-old and a freshman at Grundy County High School. They came and got us out of school that day.” When asked if her parents had hopes as the years rolled by that Marvin would return alive someday, she quickly replied, “Oh, yes!”
We’ve all heard the old saying that “the worst thing that can happen to anyone is to lose a child”. It seems in these heart-breaking situations that parents of the war dead are soon forgotten by the public as the world moves on. That’s why we need to remember Mr. & Mrs. Phillips. I’m sure they lived out their lives worrying about their child, who had disappeared in a strange and foreign land on the other side of the world and all the while hoping against hope that he would come home alive someday.
Many Vietnam veterans would say they were going back to “the world” as their time came to return to the United States, so let’s travel back through the time tunnel of history to see what was happening in the world of 1966.
“The Sound of Music” and “Dr. Zhivago” were popular movies, color TV’s were becoming popular, “Star Trek” got its start as a TV series and was a lot more fun to watch in color instead of black & white, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the “Miranda Rights” for criminal suspects, the Houston Astrodome opened, the government mandated health warnings on cigarette packs, the Baltimore Orioles beat the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the 1966 world series, the legendary Boston Celtics won the NBA championship. And what would the 1960’s be without the music of Simon and Garfunkle, and popular songs of 1966 such as “Monday, Monday” by the Mama’s and the Papa’s, “The Shadow of Your Smile” from “The Sandpiper” movie, and “A Taste of Honey by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Lastly, on an ominous note, nearly 500,000 American troops were serving in Vietnam.
On September 26, 2011, Marvin will be laid to rest in the Palmer City Cemetery with his parents 45 years to the day after his disappearance. School will be cancelled that day, and one of the largest crowds in Grundy County history is expected to be on hand. What a fitting tribute. The Vietnam veterans got little or no respect while they served, so maybe at long last their fellow citizens will give them their just due. If you know a Vietnam veteran, or any veteran for that matter, let them know you appreciate their service so that you and your family can continue to live in freedom.
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Janelle Layne Taylor from the Grundy County Historical Society in bringing you this story. Her admiration and respect for our veterans is deeply appreciated.