NOTE: This is a special guest post. Lucas Pineda Walls is my 13-year-old great nephew. In getting to know him I learned about his great interest in World War II—almost obsessive, actually. I asked him if he would be interested in telling the story of one of our Delmarva veterans from that greatest generation. This is a lightly edited version of the story that he came up with after reviewing a slew of newspaper articles and videos.
Born in Frankford, Del. in 1925, Ernest (Ernie) Marvel likes to brag about the fact that he has left that small Sussex County town only rarely in his 98 years. As he put it in one interview:
“I’m a home boy.”
But like millions of other young men of his generation Marvel had to leave home in 1945 to serve in World War II. While his life is all good and happy today, that time away from Frankford lingered with him for many years as he grappled with the dark and traumatic memories of battlefield experiences.
He arrived in Europe assigned to the 45th Infantry. This was just after the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive. Known as the “Thunderbird Division,” the 45th started its journey across Europe in Sicily in the summer of 1943. After liberating that island in Operation Husky, the division helped in the amphibious assault at Anzio, Italy. Then it moved into Southern France in Operation Dragoon, freeing towns and cities in the face of German resistance. Next came the Rhineland Campaign, pushing enemy forces out of Western Germany on the way into Central Europe.
Marvel’s main role in the campaigns he participated in was as a “bazooka man,” trying to disable enemy tanks by targeting their wheels and firing phosphorus grenades into their turrets. He also got assigned at times to reconnaissance duty, scouting out threats as his unit prepared to approach new towns.
On one such occasion, his unit was tasked with taking a village. It was supposed to be no problem. His higher-ups had received word that the town was “inactive.”
“Our general … he wanted us to take this village. He said they had been flying over and reconnaissance planes saw no activity. We got out halfway into the field. It was breaking day, and they started shooting at us. … The shrapnel was flying everywhere.”
A fierce battle unfolded. There were 28 men in Marvel’s group. He was one of only eight survivors. One of the fatalities that day was Orla Moninger, a man Marvel had become close friends with. When he returned with colleagues the next day to retrieve bodies, he found Moninger lying with his hand over his heart, holding photos of his family.
The horrors of war continued even at the point when the war was basically won. Marvel and the 45th participated in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp.
“You’ve seen ‘The Walking Dead’ [on television]? They looked worse than that. They were dying of malnutrition. They were nothing but skin and bones, and their eyes sunk right into their heads.”
Marvel was awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. But the experiences involved in earning those medals took a toll on his mental well-being, and he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon returning home. Marvel sought help from a psychiatrist, who encouraged him to talk about his experiences and emotions. He says he made a lot of progress in coping with his trauma, but the memories of war have never entirely left his mind.
Marvel suffered only one physical injury during that march across Europe. The scar from a piece of shrapnel that tore up his arm is still visible nearly eight decades later.
Marvel has lived in Frankford ever since his return from war. He got married in 1949 to Sarah Mitchell Marvel. The couple had four children. Mr. Marvel worked as a farmer for a while, then moved into the purchasing/receiving end of the poultry business. Later, he worked in a cleaning business his wife had started. She died in 2005, but he kept on working after that.
“I worked all the way up until I was 90. I figured it was time to quit.”
Despite his advanced age—he turned 98 in 2023—Marvel is still up and about a lot, judging by recent newspaper articles. He and his girlfriend, Janice Lovette, are regulars on karaoke nights at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Millville and American Legion Post 24 in Dagsboro.
“Janice, she calls me every day at 9 o’clock in the morning. She lives near Delmar. We go out about three nights [a week], singing karaoke and dancing. My girlfriend and I sing. She is a good singer. I’m mediocre.”
He also likes to take walks around town while wearing his WWII Vet hat.
“I get a lot of recognition. If I am wearing my hat, they’ll come up and say, ‘Thank you for your service. It makes you feel good, that somebody cares for you.”
Marvel’s story is important. His bravery during the war and his resilience in the face of postwar trauma serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by soldiers during wartime and the lasting impact it can have on their lives.
–written by Lucas Pineda Hernandez and posted by Jim Duffy for Secrets of the Eastern Shore/Whimbrel Creations LLC in July 2023. All right reserved.
NOTE: Mr. Marvel appeared in 2021 on WBOC-TV’s DelmarvaLife. You can watch that 10-minute segment here. Mr. Marvel’s family posted a 55-minute video of the hero remembering his life to date. You can watch that here.