Marvin was born in 1930 to Earl Nothstein and Zenobia Rehr. He attended Lehighton High School in Lehighton, Pennsylvania and later worked at Bethlehem Steel Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
In February 1952 Marvin was drafted into the Marine Corps and was later deployed to Korea as part of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division at the Main Line Resistance (present-day Demilitarized Zone). He participated in fierce battles, most notably a battle at Bunker Hill (discussed in detail his September 7 letter). Marvin was chosen to participate in a raid on Chinese-held trenches in what is now North Korea. just after Christmas 1952.
The Marines planned the raid to gather information on the location of Chinese lines at Kumgok Hill and to hopefully capture Chinese soldiers for interrogation. The platoon-sized raid left early in the morning, with Marvin assigned to the assault group, led by Lieutenant Paul Burrus. Visibility was poor due to the early morning hour and near-whiteout conditions. Burrus and 13 other men, including Marvin, split off from the main group to climb to the top of Kumgok. Marines noted hearing small arms fire from the area where Burrus and his men were believed to be, and began "box-me-in" fire to isolate the Marines from the Chinese, which was planned to help protect the Marines. Burrus and his men, including Marvin, never returned from Kumgok. Accounts vary, with some sources claiming the Marines were killed by Chinese fire, though a credible witness claims the "box-me-in" fire led to the Marines' deaths due to friendly fire.
After sunrise it became evident Burrus and his men were killed and their bodies were observed through high-power telescopes along the crest of Kumgok. A recovery mission was planned using Marines from Company F, who set off at night to retrieve the bodies. They met heavy fire from the Chinese troops who knew the Marines would launch a retrieval mission and had waited to attack. Three more Marines were killed and one was taken prisoner (he was repatriated in 1953 and recounted being humanely treated), in addition to numerous injuries, and the mission ended in failure. None of the bodies could be retrieved, though the remains of two Marines from the original mission were retrieved in early 1953 according to records stored at the National Archives in St. Louis. The remains of the 13 other Marines, including Marvin, are not known to have been recovered.
Marvin's letters are presented here to share his story in his own words. They document his entire Marine Corps service from basic training to the final letter he wrote shortly before his final mission. The letters are typed here with minimal edits, which were used minimally only to improve readability. We wanted to share Marvin's letters because they provide a fascinating account of Marvin's military service and so effectively capture Marvin's personality.
These letters were written by Marvin to his father Earl Nothstein, stepmother May Nothstein, stepbrother Darvin Shoenberger, and half-sister Susan who was born in May 1952.
Marvin clearly conveys his dislike for basic training at Parris Island, which was surely a shocking experience for many draftees. At one point he sounds frustrated and unsure he will pass basic training to earn his Private First Class rank, but his pride is evident when he eventually does. Marvin's rural Pennsylvania roots are abundantly obvious too, with his Pennsylvania Dutch culture ingrained in his writing, and his amazement after his father tells him the family home will have plumbing. Marvin's most gripping letter details his experiences at Bunker Hill, recalling in vivid detail a notable battle in the Korean war which by then had become a tit-for-tat series of skirmishes. Marvin's final letter is one of the most telling he wrote. In comparison to his earlier letters, the December 25th letter is full of the scrunched-up, rushed, tight lettering of a man who, by his own account in a December 21 letter to his congressman, is stressed to his limits. Toward the end of this letter, its evident Marvin has somewhat calmed down and his handwriting resembles his earlier letters. The letter provides one final insight into Marvin's personality, as he apparently lies to his family about the Christmas dinner he ate, not realizing the Pennsylvania Dutch food he was used to eating for holiday dinners at home is not customary outside of certain areas of Pennsylvania, in an apparent attempt to ease their worries.
With no identifiable remains recovered and no record of imprisonment at North Korean prisoner of war camps, Marvin was declared Killed in Action on December 28, 1953 and his parents died never knowing more than basic details of what happened to him. For many years the official records were classified. The raid Marvin participated in has been documented in two books, Taking on the Burden of History Presuming to be a United States Marine by George M. Van Sant, USMCR-RET, and The Outpost War U.S. Marines in Korea, Vol. 1: 1952 by Lee Ballenger.
Marvin's letters were recently rediscovered by my mother, Susan Nothstein Grim. She read them as I scanned them, and we both realized the importance of sharing this story. She spent many hours deciphering Marvin's handwriting and typing the letters so they could be shared. She and I have both donated DNA in the hopes Marvin's remains can one day be returned home and are actively working with the Marine Corps Casualty Office and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to make that happen.
Question or comments? Contact Kevin here.