East Texas Heroes: Marvin Purvis

East Texas Heroes: Marvin Purvis

He was a U.S. Marine for 24 years, and after being wounded 5 times  -- Marvin Purvis has a level of appreciation for the American flag few of us can understand.

An American flag is ripped and tattered, but to Chief Master Gunney Marvin Purvis, there's nothing more beautiful.

"This flag was laying across the wall," Purvis said.

  He was on a Recon Mission during the Vietnam War -- at a U.S. compound that had been overrun by  Viet Cong soldiers when he and some fellow marines spotted the flag fallen and torn.

They charged after it with enemy soldiers all around.

"I pulled the flag down, and  I brought it with me - and I've had it all these years."

He saved one more too.

"It was on a weapons carrier in front of us, and it was on fire. It was getting too close to the flag and I reached up and grabbed the flag down."

  To know why Purvis loves his flag is to know his history.

The Louisiana native entered military school, in Alexandria, Louisiana as a teen and went into the Marines in January 1950.

"My family has always been Navy and Marine Corps since 1804," Purvis said.

 The Korean War began later that year, and he was sent to the chosin reservoir in North Korea to hold the ground U.S. Forces helped gain.

  But Chinese Communists invaded.

  "I landed there four days before thanksgiving 1950. It was real quiet that day and the next day all hell broke loose." Purvis said.

 The Marines were surrounded on all sides by 238,000 Chinese.

   They fought to hold their ground in sub-zero conditions. Purvis was wounded twice.

"I got shot in the arm and shoulder. It was so cold that I felt it sting but it didn't bleed - it froze," he said.

After serving in Korea, Purvis was stationed across the globe until the Vietnam War.
He  trained south Vietnamese soldiers -- and served as a sniper on recon missions -- eliminating the Viet Cong from south Vietnam.

"We'd go through the rice patties and the hills and mountains and flush the VC out," Purvis said.

The danger didn't just come from enemy fighters.

"I was laying in the grass there, waiting for my target, and a King Cobra popped up about a foot in front of me and looked me right in the face," Purvis said.

"He didn't move, and I didn't move, and he popped back down and moved on, I says thank you, Lord."

  But the wildlife also provided a few moments of levity -- like the time Purvis saw a Marine round a corner and run into a gorilla.

"A real gorilla! The gorilla was coming this way, and he was coming that way and they hit each other," Purvis says through laughter.

 A brief moment of laughter -- in a violent world.
Purvis got shot three times total in Vietnam.

"If it wasn't too serious, you went back," Purvis said.

   But kept serving until his tour was up in 1969 -- and served at bases in Texas before he retired in 1974.

  Even now he thinks about how his faith helped him survive so many years ago.

"I prayed god would keep me safe and give me the strength to protect my men," he said.

 And he wants others to  look at these flags he tore from the grips of war.

  "it's my flag, and I'll die for it," Purvis said.

  And remember why brave Americans will give everything to protect it.

 Purvis received Purple Heart awards for his five injuries, as well as a Bronze Star, and numerous other awards for his service.
He lives in Tyler with his wife, Elsie.

If you know an East Texas Hero, e-mail: jearley@ cbs.tv.


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