Researched and written by DC
Holds the rank of specialist for first and second season. Promoted to sergeant in the episode “The Luck” while Anderson and Goldman are MIA. Marvin is from Tupelo, Mississippi, the son of a farmer.
Physical attributes: Marvin is a handsome young black man, tall and slender with a shy smile. He’s approximately 6’2”, dark brown eyes and short black hair.
- First Tour: Firebase Ladybird, I Corps (1967* to January 1968) with 2nd Platoon, B (“Bravo”) Company, 3/44th Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. Rifleman in 3rd Squad.
- First Tour: Tan Son Nhut, III Corp (Late January 1968 (Tet) to April 1968)
- First Tour & Four month extension**: Camp Barnett, III Corps (May 1968 to December 1968) Special Forces- Team Viking.
*It is reasonable to assume that Marvin started out at Ladybird after it was built. But unlike Anderson, the show never gives us that information. Taylor has more time, so he along with Anderson likely came from another post. But Marvin, upon coming in country, probably went right to Ladybird.
**In World in Changes, Anderson tells Johnson he survived a tour and four month extension.
- Bronze Star- awarded in the episode “Thanks for the Memories”
- Purple Heart- awarded in “The Hill” for wounds sustained in action on August 6th, 1967 in the Binh Tri Valley
- National Defense Medal
- Vietnam Campaign Medal
- Vietnam Service Medal
- Combat Infantry Badge
Marvin Johnson is already at Ladybird with Anderson and Taylor when Goldman, Percell, Horn, Baker and Ruiz arrive. He is part of Bravo Company, 3/44 Infantry, 2nd Platoon under the command of Captain Rusty Wallace. Johnson appears in all episodes from the pilot to episode 48, “Green Christmas“ with the exception of “Gray-Brown Odyssey.” He leaves Vietnam in episode 47, “World in Changes” to return home.
He doesn’t smoke.
He did his basic training at Fort Polk.
He is the son of a sharecropper. Both his parents are still alive and he has a sister and large extended family.
His father’s name is Arthur.
He does a full tour and a four month extension.
He reads comic books.
He is passed over for promotion to sergeant in the episode “Hard Stripe” but is promoted in “The Luck.”
Upon returning home, he goes to college.
Marvin Johnson is a gentle and sweet young man who is also very smart and an excellent soldier. Unlike his more hot headed buddy, Taylor, Johnson isn’t easily swayed and forms his own opinions and accepts the consequences of his actions. He can be deceptively naïve and young one moment, reading comic books, then a no nonsense soldier the next.
When Goldman, Percell, Horn, Baker and Ruiz arrive, it’s in the wake of Firebase Ladybird nearly being overrun the night before. Johnson’s best friend, Mickey, is killed in the attack and when his body is brought back to camp, Marvin breaks down and cries over him until Taylor and Anderson pull him away.
Marvin has a clear sense of right and wrong and a great deal of common sense. He doesn’t let anyone talk him into anything he doesn’t agree with. Racial tensions soar at Ladybird in the episode “Burn, Baby, Burn” as some redneck good old boys start stirring things up with the more volatile young black men of the platoon. Taylor, who is easily led by Tucker, keeps pushing Johnson to do something about Innis and there is talk of “fragging.” But Johnson won’t have a part of it. When Innis is murdered during the night, it looks as if Marvin may have done it. This eventually brings things to a flashpoint at Ladybird until Marvin is cleared.
Marvin, along with Baker and Anderson, goes MIA for a day when they hitch a ride in a chopper bound for Chu-lai in the episode “Brothers, Fathers and Sons.” The slick is shot down, killing the pilot and crew and leaving Anderson, Johnson and Baker to find their way back to safety while being pursued by VC. Along the way, they come across a camp of Montagnards who have been killed in an artillery crossfire but for one woman. She is near death but still gives birth before dying. Johnson along with Baker refuses to leave the baby boy despite Anderson’s orders. While signaling for help and coming under fire by the VC, Marvin is shot and wounded and later receives a Purple Heart in the episode “The Hill.”
In January 1968 Johnson’s platoon is reassigned to Tan Son Nhut near Saigon. He makes the mistake of investing a great deal of money in Jake Bridger’s hotel. He finds out he’s been ripped off pretty quickly but Taylor is determined to help get his money back and the two end up in a high stakes poker game on the eve of Tet.
Shortly after that in the episode “True Grit”, while on patrol and passing through a ville, Marvin runs into a young and pretty Vietnamese girl named Ling. He’d met her upon coming in country when she was a prostitute. He agrees to look her up at her shop in Saigon later. But when he does, he finds out she’s pregnant and she tells him she believes it’s his. Marvin is angry and leaves not liking being trapped in the situation. Eventually he decides that he should at least help out, even if it’s highly likely not “his” baby. Taylor thinks he’s a fool, but Marvin doesn’t care. In the end, the baby isn’t his but Ling is taken care of.
In the episode “Hard Stripe” Marvin gets passed over for promotion to sergeant, the rank instead going to another man, Smitty. Percell, Ruiz, and especially Taylor feel the stripe belongs to Marvin. But Marvin makes it clear he feels the L-T did the right thing by giving it to Smitty and when it’s his turn, he knows the L-T will do right by him. Marvin eventually gets his stripe, in “The Luck,” but it’s under circumstances he’d rather not have had as Goldman and Anderson are MIA.
In the episode “Ties that Bind” Johnson, Taylor, Ruiz and the new medic, Hockenbury, transfer along with Goldman and Anderson to Camp Barnett into the Alpha Project, under the command of Colonel Carl Brewster. They form Team Viking, a special forces SOG unit. But Marvin is caught off guard and hurt when Goldman abruptly tells him and everyone else at Percell’s birthday party that Marvin is taking over for Anderson, who is returning to the States.
Zeke has every confidence that Marvin is up for the job and reminds him of it. And it’s Marvin who talks Myron down off the ledge when he loses it, killing the tax collector’s bodyguards. As Myron stands, shaking, pistol pointed at the cowering man, Marvin reminds him of the promise Myron made to Zeke, that he had these men to take care of even if he didn’t care about himself anymore. That killing one more VC wasn’t going to get Alex back.
It’s not easy filling Anderson’s shoes and Marvin learns that quickly in “Lonely at the Top.” He makes mistakes that cost the lives of four of his men. Goldman uses the tough love approach, making it clear to Marvin that he trusts him and his instincts and that they go forward from there. Still shaky and nervous, he sees a child with what he thinks is a grenade, throwing himself at the father and child and taking them to the ground as he shouts for everyone to get down. It turns out to be a piece of fruit. Goldman appreciates his instincts but the actions terrify the villagers who huddle in fear and refuse to talk to them.
Colonel Brewster also understands what Marvin is going through and talks to him about courage and what it takes. It all falls into place when Marvin makes the right call in telling his men to hold and not shoot when a decoy of NVA and what appears to be the POW they’re looking for passes by. Percell, Taylor and Ruiz think he’s lost his mind and nerve until they see that Johnson is right and the real POW is spotted.
In the episode “Thanks for the Memories” Marvin realizes he’s “short” and could be going home. But he’s not sure what decision to make. He wants to go home but he doesn’t want to leave his buddies behind. He tells his mother on the phone that he could be home in time for Christmas. In “I Am What I Am” he tells his friends that he’s thinking of going back to school and maybe working for someone like the governor. Ruiz and Percell tease him, but Taylor is not so amused. He doesn’t think much of Marvin’s plans to go back to school and make something of himself.
With the decision made to go home, Johnson and Taylor become at odds in the episode “World in Changes.” Marvin is nervous and having nightmares about not making it back now that he’s down to the final days of his tour. While arguing in the bush and not paying attention, the two are captured by the NVA. While the rest of the team work to get them back, the NVA torture both men. Taylor comes clean with the fact that he’s jealous of Marvin and will miss him. That he knows Marvin will make something of himself someday.
In saying goodbye to Anderson, Johnson tells him he’s afraid and not sure what’s going to happen. When he came to Vietnam, he was just a kid, but not anymore. Zeke agrees, saying that Marvin survived a tour and a four month extension and that he’ll be just fine. He gives Marvin one final order to get on that chopper and get the hell out of Vietnam.
Marvin returns to the States but even before he arrives home he finds things aren’t what they seem. He ends up in a fight with some men from 1st Cav who make it clear that now that they are going home they don’t have to associate with blacks. Marvin ends up on top, with a broken bottle and the guys he’s traveling with yelling at him to cut the guy up for being such a bigot. But Marvin won’t do it and throws the bottle away. The entire incident leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
Marvin makes it back to his family, his mother and father thrilled with his return. It’s almost Christmas and he’s safely home. But again, things aren’t completely okay when he tells his father, Arthur, he’s not staying in, that instead he’s going to college. He wants something other than the military or to be a farmer. His father isn’t happy with his decision, thinking he’s making a mistake.
On Christmas Day, Marvin goes into the kitchen to get the dessert when he sees his buddies on TV being interviewed. He watches, sliding his fingers over the screen and their faces, realizing how much he misses them but knowing it’s time for him to get on with his life.