Leadership Lessons From POW Col Jerry Marvel, USMC by John Woodward
Colonel Jerry Marvel was a Marine Pilot and had been shot down in the Vietnam War, captured and tortured for over 5 years but you would not know it from talking with him. We were fortunate when we were stationed at Cherry Point to have some friends who were friends with Col Marvel and he was gracious enough to allow me to spend some time with him.
For today though, I want to relay a different story that he told while he and I were having a beer just before the big annual pig cooking contest at Newport NC (where earlier my wife and her great friend Jaime were the first two women to enter the previously all-male pig cooking contest but that is another story……..) Jerry spoke directly to you and he really enjoyed talking with others partly because he was in isolation for so long as a POW.
We were talking about perimeter security and he brightened up and laughed a bit with the following story. When he was a Captain and also officer of the day (OOD) (Pensacola tour he thought), he had heard that some of the walking patrols on the flight line were not actively performing their duties so he had a plan. He waited until after dark and then parked his car parallel to and at the end of the runway. He was in his Charlie uniform and walked through the scrub brush to get to the edge of the runway and then started down towards the aircraft. He was getting real close and could not see any of the guards and thought he had accomplished his mission when suddenly someone yelled out “ HALT..! WHO GOES THERE?” Well, he stood up and said “Captain Marvel”. This was at a time when there were several television cartoon shows for kids with Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Avengers,…. Etc. Well, the guard was quick to respond and replied “ RIGHT AND I AM CAPTAIN AMERICA..!!” and fired a couple of shots from his shotgun…..!!! Captain Marvel hit the deck and rolled behind one of the aircraft for cover and started yelling that he was the OOD and to stop shooting. Seems that the SDNCO had told all the roving patrols to be extra vigilant and carry out their orders to the letter that particular night. Kinda makes you smile if you know what I mean.
Jerry would also talk at Survival School and have different examples of torture used against the POWs every time he did. One of the torture techniques applied to him was the large rubber-like ball that they tied around his mouth so he could not scream when they were hanging him from his arms pulled from behind or just beating him. Jerry smiled and said that his biggest worry with that was what would happen if he regurgitated. He was very uncomfortable when his lips were pushed onto his teeth and bleeding from the ball tied around his mouth and the beating or pressure on his shoulders but he knew if he vomited, he would probably not make it. So whenever I am at the dentist and they accidentally push my lips on my teeth, I remember Jerry and just smile.
He was very very happy to be around and talk with people after his almost 5 years as a POW and was as sincere as the day is long. Jerry had faith in God, his country and the Corps and knew he would make it back to the states. His faith was tested every day as a POW and he knew in his heart everything would be ok even if there were some rougher than normal days which there always were. Rest in Peace Colonel Jerry Marvel.
Captain Jerry Marvel was shot down on Feb 24, 1968, and was a Prisoner of War (POW) until his release on March 14, 1973. He continued on active duty until 1983 and passed away in June of 1995 from an apparent heart attack on his way home from a physical in Pensacola FL. Please raise a glass to remember Jerry, and all our fallen and injured service members at any time you feel appropriate.