FRANKFORD — Sussex County resident Ernest “Ernie” Marvel certainly doesn’t show his age.
At 97, the highly decorated World War II veteran still gets out and about with no sign of slowing down.
Accompanied by his girlfriend, Janice Lovett, 85, he’s a regular at 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 morning. She lives near Delmar. We go out about three nights, singing karaoke and dancing,” said Mr. Marvel, a resident of Frankford. “My girlfriend and I sing. She is a good singer. I’m mediocre.”
He’s a familiar face and lifetime member at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7234 in Ocean View and the AMVETS post in Long Neck.
“I get a lot of recognition. If I am wearing my hat, they’ll come up and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” said Mr. Marvel. “It makes you feel good, that somebody cares for you.”
A musical honor
Recently, he was shown a great deal of care.
Like most first-time concertgoers, Mr. Marvel didn’t know what to expect when his grandson, Donnie Carey, took him to a Jamey Johnson country music show July 29 in Selbyville.
“Pop Pop never turns down an invitation,” Mr. Carey said.
That much, he was sure of.
But Mr. Carey had contacted the Freeman Arts Pavilion, as well as the singer’s management team, trying to plan something special. He hadn’t received a response.
“Jamey Johnson has this song called ‘In Color,’” Mr. Carey explained. “It makes me think of Pop Pop when I listen to it. It’s about a grandson asking his grandfather about some old black-and-white photos.”
Co-written by Mr. Johnson, Lee Miller and James Otto, “In Color” honors their grandfathers going off to war, as Mr. Marvel had done in 1943.
He was 19, and he remembers it in living color, Mr. Carey said. As the song says:
To Mr. Carey’s and Mr. Marvel’s surprise, during the Freeman show, Mr. Johnson announced from the stage that there was a very special guest in the audience — a 97-year-old World War II hero.
“It was the best day of my life,” Mr. Carey confessed.
The two were in line for the men’s room at the time, but that had to wait. Mr. Johnson was dedicating a song to Mr. Marvel.
As Mr. Johnson sang “In Color,” Mr. Marvel made his way to the front, and his family gathered around him.
“Jamey jumped off the stage and gave me two guitar pics with his name on it,” Mr. Marvel said. “It was a great thrill.”
In recent years, the infantryman who fought in three major battles in France and Germany has been honored front and center a few times.
He received numerous medals for his military service. The list includes two Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct commendation, a Victory Medal, a Unit Regimental Badge, a Division Badge, a Purple Heart, a Unit Citation, a German Occupation award, three Battle Stars and an Expert Rifleman honor.
Last summer, he was wrapped in respect during a Quilts of Valor ceremony at VFW Post 7234.
In celebration of his 95th birthday, he threw out the first pitch at Camden Yards. He and his family were VIP guests of the Baltimore Orioles that day.
He missed having a birthday party in 2020, but local residents and family celebrated him with a 75-car parade in front of his house.
And another possible military award is in the works, one that may take Mr. Marvel to the French Embassy in Washington, according to Mr. Carey.
“You had to have fought on French soil, … and you must be alive,” said Mr. Carey. “It takes a couple months. There’s an elaborate ceremony they do there. Hopefully, we can do that within the year.”
Mr. Carey calls his granddad “an amazing person, with an amazing story.”
Born May 12, 1924, near Bethany Beach, he was one of his parents’ eight children.
Approaching 100, he has a license and still drives. “And I plant my garden every year,” he said.
After a career in farming and poultry — sandwiched around almost three years of military service — he worked with his wife, Sarah Mitchell Marvel, in her cleaning business. He continued that work even after her death, until finally calling it quits about seven years ago.
“I farmed all the way up to 60. I got a job at a poultry plant, worked there 20 some years purchasing/receiving. I worked with my wife. She died in 2005,” said Mr. Marvel. “I worked all the way up until I was 90. I figured it was time to quit.”
Mr. Marvel and his wife married in 1949. They had four children. Two are living — daughter, Kathy, and son, Keith, who resides with his dad.
His memories remain quite vivid. And he hasn’t lost the gift of gab.
“I went over on the Queen Elizabeth. There were 24,000 troops, double-loaded. It took us three days and four nights to go across. We landed in Glasgow, Scotland,” said Mr. Marvel, who recalls New York City on his way to Europe. “I remember going by the Statue of Liberty and saying, ‘Well, we might never see you again.’ All us guys thought that.
“Before we got in Glasgow, Scotland, there (were) planes flying overhead. It come over the loudspeaker that there (are) German planes overhead. ‘We’ve cut the motors. Prepare to abandon ship.’ Can you imagine jumping off? All the sharks would have had a feast,” he said. “The first fighting I saw was Le Havre, France.”
Mr. Marvel served with the 45th Infantry Division, first in the 7th Army, then the 3rd Army under Gen. George S. Patton. “Our general, Gen. Patch, he got killed, so they transferred our division to Patton’s 3rd Army,” he said. “I was a bazooka man.”
After fighting on through France, the first German village they took was Blieskastel. Then, it was through the Black Forest and across the Rhine River.
Mr. Marvel was part of the Allied forces that liberated Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp near Munich, and he was one of the first to arrive there. In all, 32,000 prisoners were freed, but many others were already dead when the Allied troops arrived.
“I remember it today just as plain as if it was yesterday,” said Mr. Marvel, echoing back to the song. “They were dying of malnutrition. When they walked to us, they were nothing but skin and bones. They were like zombies. It was an awful smell.”
What occurred at a village in France “sticks” to him the most.
“Our general wanted us to take a village. They’d been flying over it for a couple of days and saw no activity. They picked our squad of 28 men,” he said.
“And at daylight, we formed up squads down at the edge of the woods.” In the open field they were about to cross, however, a camouflaged German tank sat ready to open fire. Mr. Marvel was one of only eight men who returned.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I prayed to the man upstairs that if he’d let me get home, I’d never hunt again.”
After the victory in Europe in May 1945, Mr. Marvel and his comrades initially were in the process of being redeployed to the Pacific Theater.
However, “we were out about six days, and it came on the speaker, ‘The war in Japan has ended. You guys are headed to the USA!’” he said.
Their homecoming was extraordinary.
“They were hugging us and kissing us. They took us out and fed us steak and mashed potatoes. We hadn’t had that in years. And homemade ice cream,” Mr. Marvel said.
One of his arms bears a visual reminder of combat — a long scar from a shrapnel wound.
So, 76 years after World War II ended, Mr. Marvel continues to enjoy life to the fullest.
“I have a pretty good mind for 97 years old. All the time that I’d run around, I’d drink beer, but I never smoked cigarettes,” he said.
“Everybody says, ‘Why have you been around so long?’ I said, ‘Working hard.’ I’ve worked hard all my life. When I was 6 years old, I was milking five and six cows by hand in the morning. I’d get up at 4 o’clock. Then, go to school and come home and milk them again.”