By Emily Williams
Before Charlie Marvin’s two tours in Vietnam, before he married his wife, Pat, and had a daughter and a son, before he was shot in battle, before his three Distinguished Flying Crosses and before he devoted his retirement to supporting the troops through the Military Officers Association of America, Marvin was simply a Texan. H Though he is quick to shrug at his many accomplishments on and off the battle field, Marvin, above, was nominated by his peers in the Greater Birmingham chapter of MOAA to serve as the 2016 Veteran of the Year and will be recognized as such at the chapter’s annual Veterans Day Patriotic Tribute on Nov. 6 at the Alabama Veterans Memorial Park.
“My father was in the cattle business,” Marvin said. “I had a horse and helped work the cattle fields – I actually rode that horse to school in sixth grade.”
Growing up in South Houston, Marvin would gallop to school on horseback and tie his steed to a nearby chain-link fence surrounding a live oil rig. After high school graduation, forgoing a rancher’s life, he did what he says is one of the natural paths for a young Texas man, he enlisted in the Army.
After his basic training in Colorado, Marvin served in airborne units for three years before he was discharged to attend college at the University of Houston. Between his junior and senior years, Marvin married his wife.
“She’s seen me through flight school and two tours,” he said. “I always say that has to be the hardest job. While I was on tour, in all of the excitement, she was sitting at home worrying. That’s what’s hard, not knowing.”
He may call his tours exciting, but they weren’t without their trials. Beyond bullets and bravery, Marvin was in the early stages of his first tour when his daughter was born and first met her when she was 8 months.
Though he is an airplane pilot, Marvin’s two tours in Vietnam were spent in a different aircraft – a helicopter. He was one of around 6,000 pilots serving on helicopters because it was the best way to travel in the area.
On a typical day in Vietnam, Marvin would begin by dropping off three groups of about 60 men each in three locations.
“The ground troops would search the nearby area for the enemy and if they didn’t come up with anything, depending on the time of day, we would pick them up and take them somewhere else or bring them back to the base camp.”
During his first tour as platoon leader of the 116th Assault Helicopter Company, Marvin was shot down several times, one of which resulted in a gunshot wound before his platoon members could extract him.
Marvin said such situations illustrate the brotherhood forged between men who serve together.
“The most you ever really knew these guys were about six months, because we served 8, 9-month tours before going home,” Marvin said. “But those men you served with, you knew them better than almost anyone because you were doing something dangerous together. Even if I didn’t particularly like a person, if he was shot down I would do anything I could to pick him up, just as they did for me when I was.”
Marvin returned home in August 1971 and continued his service following the Vietnam War with the 145 Combat Aviation Battalion. Before retiring as a lieutenant colonel, Marvin received the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with 39 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with Valor and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge.
After retiring, Marvin has continued to serve his fellow veterans as well as active duty members of the military in a more legislative way, thanks to his wife. Shortly after their move to Birmingham, (they now live in North Shelby County), she saw a newspaper article about the local MOAA chapter, then known as TROA.
He served as chapter president for 10 years over a 14-year span, on the Alabama council of presidents and as the state vice president and president.
Marvin said he was recruited by the incoming president of the state council at the time to serve as his vice president.
“I almost turned him down,” he said. “I was already doing all of this work as chapter president, but he talked me into it and three years later I became president.”
As state chapter president, Marvin said, it was his duty to participate in the annual MOAA Storming of the Hill, during which he would visit Congress and the state Legislature and meet with lawmakers to discuss their support of the military and veterans. One of the most pressing issues he sees today is the government’s desire to lower the minimum pay raise for active-duty military.
“These raise limitations are egregious considering that these men and women have been fighting for us for 15 years,” he said.
His son, also now retired, conducted mostly investigative missions, trying to locate and capture specific wanted people. So while his wife’s worries for him were of combat, Marvin said his worries for his son were of improvised explosive devices.
“I served with 18- and 19-year-olds, but he served with men who were 22 years at least and were senior sergeants, men who were real professionals,” Marvin said.
Regardless of his worry, Marvin said his son’s service in the military is a continued point of pride for him.
Marvin’s wife, his son, his daughter-in-law and his 6-year-old granddaughter will be in attendance as he leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the Nov. 6 ceremony. As Marvin takes the stage he will be flanked by the names of friends living and past immortalized on the memorial’s columns.
Patriotic Tribute: Honoring All Veterans
Alabama Veterans Memorial Park
The Alabama Veterans Memorial Foundation will host its annual Veterans Day Patriotic Tribute on Nov. 6 from 1 to 4:30 p.m.
The festivities will begin with a performance by the Hoover High School Jazz Band, followed by a program featuring keynote speaker Tony Petelos, Jefferson County manager. University of Alabama at Birmingham ROTC will present the Colors and the Pledge of Allegiance will be led by MOAA Veteran of the Year Charlie Marvin. The ceremony will conclude with patriotic music performed by the Homewood Middle School Choir.
Other activities will include the Faces of the Price of Freedom exhibit from 1 to 3 p.m. and a StepStone ceremony dedicating engraved pavers to veterans at 3 p.m.
For more information, visit alabamaveterans.org.