By Rhonda Seward, Fort Lee Public AffairsApril 16, 2009
More than 38 years after his actions during the Vietnam War, retired Master Sgt. Marvin L. Caldwell received the Army's fourth highest honor, the Bronze Star medal, during a ceremony at Virginia Tech on April 4. The Bronze Star was presented by Col. Brant Dayley, Air and Missile Defense/Space Division Chief, Pentagon.
Caldwell was a platoon sergeant with the 360th Transportation Company, 262nd Quartermaster Battalion from August 1969 - May 1970. The fighting on the routes to and from Da Lat along Highway 20 from Na Trang and Bam Me Thout led his commander, 1st Lt. Michael Needles to recommend him for the Bronze Star.
Needles signed the initial recommendations for Caldwell and two other truck sergeants shortly after leaving Vietnam. Two men received their awards and for more than 38 years, the award request for Caldwell was stalled.
In August 2008, Needles and Caldwell's daughter, Katherine, began to recreate the paperwork in order to give their Soldier the honor he had earned in combat.
Since both the commander of the 360th Trans. Co. and the commander of 262nd QM Bn. are deceased, Needles found it challenging to get his request approved.
His persistence finally paid off and the request was approved on Feb. 26.
Caldwell was told of the recommendation years ago and didn't hear another word about it until Needles and two of his former squad leaders, Sgt. Robert Dalton and Sgt. Jack Buckwalter, arrived in Pembroke for a visit last year.
Katherine spoke in a sigh of sweet relief while describing the joy she felt after receiving the notice that her lifelong hero would finally be awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor and meritorious service to the nation.
She described the moment as life-changing and long-awaited when she broke the news to her father.
"When my father heard the news, he cried," Katherine said.
She extended praise to Lt. Col. Marion A. Stalter, military awards branch chief, Air Force Col. Michael J. Schmidt and Needles for their diligent efforts in working through red tape to make this moment possible.
"It gave me great pleasure to hear it had been approved," she said. "I felt like Dad was finally getting the honor he deserved."
Katherine said her father never spoke of his service in Vietnam.
"Only when his old buddies found him last year and they got together, did we hear what his tour had been like," she said.
The circumstances surrounding the event have been moving to the family and those who remember the Vietnam War. However, this moment has a historical one for the Caldwell family as their lives are forever changed by such an honor.
"My family and I have become acquainted with the most wonderful and fabulous Army personnel that I have ever met," Katherine said. "They have gone way beyond the call of duty to make this happen. I owe them all boundless thanks and gratitude. I have seen a happiness, excitement and pride in my father that I have not seen in years."
When asked if he was excited to receive the medal, Caldwell responded that he was and he wasn't.
"I did not expect this to get as much attention as it has gotten," he said. "I had forgotten about the medal but I am surprised to receive it after such a long time."
Needles said he was Caldwell's immediate commander and the unit's mission was to deliver daily fuel convoys. This typically involved a 200- tanker convoy to resupply logistic supply area outposts and fire bases 200 miles north, south, and west of Cam Rahn Bay.
From August 1969 to May 1970, Caldwell performed his duties as a sergeant first class in an exceptionally superior manner - according to his medal citation - while supplying essential fuel to fire support bases and logistic support areas throughout the combat area of operation, often on multiple convoys each day.
As hostilities and enemy action increased, he continued to achieve remarkable mastery of all phases of convoy operations, truck maintenance and leadership. Under enemy small arms fire, 122 mm rockets and mortars, Caldwell consistently acted calmly with disregard for his own safety to position the convoy gun trucks which provided maximum protection for the remaining fuel tankers and convoy personnel. The citation stated that Caldwell's actions saved lives and helped make the mission more successful.
Lt. Col. Carey Radican, 262nd QM Bn. commander, said the importance of the award should not be diminished by the time between contribution and presentation. He said Caldwell's actions were the epitome of the Army values.
"I am focused on the fact that outstanding performance has been recognized and rewarded," Radican said. "When Caldwell was assigned to the battalion, it directly supported the war effort. Now we support the war effort by training Soldiers. Proximity to the fight should not measure contribution."
Caldwell was drafted in 1952. He was honorably discharged in 1954 and joined the Army Reserve. He returned to active duty in 1959.
Caldwell describes his 26 years of service as interesting. He had the opportunity to drive the chief of staff of the United Nations, train Korean soldiers to drive tractor trailers, and was a truck master during the United States' move from France.
Caldwell recalled being stationed at the Pentagon and was involved in the inaugurations of five presidents - John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. He also assisted with the funerals of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. Omar Bradley.
He was operations sergeant during President Kennedy's funeral and assisted with President Eisenhower's funeral.
Caldwell retired from active duty in 1978.
Katherine has always considered her father a hero and is thankful that he has finally been honored as was intended so long ago.
"My father has always been my hero," she said. " Now I feel like the military has finally validated that."