Ernest Marvel of Frankford says he is the oldest active member of the Mason Dixon Post 7234 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, located in Ocean View. At 96, he’s pretty sure no one will argue that point.
On Aug. 21, Marvel was summoned to the VFW post for what he would discover was an honor befitting his seniority, and showing the gratitude of his community.
Marvel was awarded a Quilt of Valor that day, by the Quilt of Valor Foundation, which sews quilts for veterans and awards them to those who served and have been nominated by family or friends.
A veteran of World War II, Marvel served with the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division, which helped to liberate the Dachau concentration camp in April of 1945.
In a speech he wrote about his experiences during the war, Marvel told of heading to Europe aboard a “double-loaded” HMS Queen Elizabeth.
“I remember going by the Statue of Liberty, thinking I may never see it again.”
The trip was not without peril. On the second night of the four-day trip, Marvel wrote, “We hit a bad storm, but we went through it OK.”
On the third night, “It came over the speaker that German planes were overhead,” he wrote, and the ship turned off its motor and drifted. “They could not locate us, and left.” The fourth night, Marvel wrote, “We were told to prepare to abandon ship, that a German sub was after us. But the Queen outran it.”
Of his part in the historic liberation of the Dachau prison, Marvel said in a recent interview with the Coastal Point, “I can see it just like if it was today. It was an awful sight when we took it. There was house-to-house combat all the way up to the prison,” about a half a mile, he said.
He recalled taking German SS troops prisoner, but what sticks in his mind more than anything, he said, is the horrific conditions at the prison, the profound illness of the thousands of prisoners, and the death.
After he and his fellow soldiers had been at the camp for about a week and a half, Marvel said, “We saw a box car” down the road. “We cut the seal. It was full of dead people.” That scene, he said, was repeated when more box cars were found.
Many of the prisoners who were still alive, he said, were extremely ill. Marvel said “sickness and malnutrition, together” spread throughout the camp, and that the troops who tried to save them ended up helping to dispose of bodies. “We couldn’t bury them as fast as they were dying,” he said.
“You never forget that as long as your mind works,” he said.
Before arriving at Dachau, which is about 10 miles from Munich, Marvel and his division came through Munich, which included the capture of Adolf Hitler’s Munich home.
“We didn’t see him,” Marvel said.
These days, Marvel’s life is filled with spending time with his family and tending his large garden. His Facebook page is full of photos of the garden. But there among the garden photos is a black-and-white video depicting the liberation of Dachau. The conditions shown match his graphic descriptions of what he and his fellow soldiers found there.
During his two years in the Army, Marvel was awarded two Bronze Stars — one for an ambush and one for helping to liberate Dachau, as well as three Purple Hearts and a European Theater medal with three Battle Stars.
He said he enjoyed the Quilt of Valor ceremony, attended by around 35 friends and members of his family.
“We were joined by a lot of family members, and he is quite the fan of karaoke,” said Dana Mason, Delaware state coordinator for the Quilts of Valor Foundation. “A lot of friends from going to karaoke nights a local VFWs, Legions and Moose Lodges joined us as well,” Mason said.