Marvin Reed wasn’t a big guy: Five-foot-seven and a welterweight on the Bremerton High School boxing team, but also a second-unit guard on the 1947 Wildcat football team that went unbeaten (12-0) and was named the mythical state champion by the Associated Press.
What Reed lacked in size he made up for it with determination, toughness and desire to be best at whatever he tried. You didn’t want to challenge him. His hand-eye coordination was too good, and his speed and quickness were seldom challenged.
Reed, now 92, retired as a lieutenant colonel after 24 years in the Air Force and lives in Orofino, Idaho, where he is known as “The Bird Man of Orofino,” a leftover from his days at Washington State College (now Washington State University) where he got his degree in wildlife management -- hence, his love of birds. Reed became a taxidermist and some of his stuffed birds still are in Conner Museum at WSU.
“He is a professional ornithologist,” says Reed’s nephew Ron Reed. “He wrote a book on birds when he was 10. He’s been fascinated with birds ever since he came out of the womb. He knows just about every bird in flight out there.”
Marvin added, “Veterinarians in Orofino, when they get an injured or dead bird, call me to identify them.”
Reed’s parents owned a grocery store at Long Lake when he was in college. He had a Magpie there called Chauser, and taught it to talk.
“He would say my name is Chauser. Birds don’t talk,” laughs Marvin.
From WSC, Reed went into the Air Force and became a pilot for the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo jet, a powerful supersonic piece of genius that set speed records. Pilots like Reed who flew it -- and Reed made 100 missions over North Korea in it -- became known as "Voodoo Warriors," chronicled in a book by Nigel Walpole, a British pilot. Reed supplied all the text for Chapter 14 in the book.
Last July, the book was added to the library in Orofino and Reed wrote a seven-page introduction that was read at the ceremony.
Born on a farm in the small village of Boyd, Wisconsin, in 1930, Reed migrated to Washington State and the family first settled just south of Olympia where his dad, Vernon Reed, planned to establish a mink farm. Before Vernon could finish it, World War II broke out and Reed’s dad took a job in 1941as an electrician in Bremerton at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
So began the athletic career of Reed, who joined with a talented group of guys, including the legendary Don Heinrich and Ted Tappe, that called Warren Avenue Playfield their home away from home.
Reed says he learned a lot about sports from his dad, who was a semi-pro pitcher in Wisconsin.
It was by word of mouth Reed became a member of the 1947 football team. He was on coach Wayne Anderson’s boxing team at Bremerton and one day Anderson caught up with football coach Dwight Scheyer and told him about this talented young man on his boxing team.
“You want to get Marvin Reed on your football team,” Anderson said. “He’s stronger than anybody his size and faster than anybody.”
Scheyer really didn’t have an opening to take on an extra player, but agreed to take Reed, who he placed on the offensive line at right guard.
“I should have been a running back,” insists Reed.
But OL was it. Reed wound up playing second-unit right guard (Auzie Robinson was second-unit left guard; George Payne started at right guard and Jack Crawford at left guard) and as it turned out Reed and Robinson got plenty of playing time for the Wildcats that magical season as they steamrolled most opponents en route to a 12-0 record.
A side note: that 1947 team was the first in the state to use plastic helmets, but only in games. They still practiced in leather helmets.
It was in the 1947 season and the last game of the regular season the Wildcats flew in a DC-6 plane to play at Yakima against a team that was tough to beat. Earlier in the season they finally snapped an 11-game losing streak to Everett by beating the Seagulls, 27-0. They matched that score against Yakima.
The airplane flight was the first time in the state a high school team flew in a plane to a game. It was nerve-wracking though. There were no pressurized cabins in that day so the plane had to fly low over the Cascades. What made it more thrilling was the game ended in the late afternoon and by the time the plane flew over the Cascades the sun was setting. They made it, though, and had time to go to the senior prom that night.
Normally, Seattle schools did not play outside schools, but the fact Ballard was unbeaten like the Wildcats made for a match made in heaven. The game was played Thanksgiving at Seattle Memorial Stadium, where normal crowds for a high school football game reached 4,000. For this game, 16,000 packed the stadium. They were entertained by a Wildcat squad that jumped out to a 19-0 lead in the first half behind the running of star back Jim Wiley and passing of Heinrich. But it was two long runs by sophomore Tiny Madlin that made a big difference in a 19-14 win.
Reed, who is one of few players from that team still alive, was the first in his Air Force squadron to complete 100 missions over North Vietnam. He did reconnaissance flights, which meant he flew low over Vietcong air defense systems.
One time, he almost was done in.
"I was so low I could see their helmets and the muzzle flash from their 57 millimeter gun shooting at me,” Reed said. “They shot over the top of me.”
Reed’s life has been full of twist and turns. He was a technical advisor for a Robert Stack movie, was for two years a personal pilot for a millionaire woman in Reno (“she had a lot of boyfriends”), and planned on being a flight instructor in Reno but suffered blackouts that led to a pacemaker being inserted, which ended his flying.
He had retired to Reno, but grew uneasy when Reno’s population exploded. So he moved to Boise with his only child, Kyle, who went on to Boise State and now is a sixth-grade teacher in Columbus, Ohio.
Reed opened an art gallery and a picture framing business in Boise, but eventually moved to Orofino to better take in fishing and hunting.
Reed works out three times a week and had played tennis with other seniors until eight years ago when he believes Agent Orange he contacted in Vietnam attacked his legs. He still drives, but can’t walk without a walker.
He also has had luck on his side. He and military buddies got in the habit of going out on Fridays in Saigon to have martinis. They would go to this particular floating restaurant in the middle of the Saigon River in downtown Saigon.
So one Friday night the group decided it was time to down a few martinis, and they headed to the floating restaurant.
"It was in 1965 and we were going to his restaurant on a barge,” says Reed. ”Our commander, Curley Walker, said, ‘First we are going to a hotel to have a couple drinks.’ He wanted to go to the hotel bar. We are sitting on top of the hotel in the bar when we hear a boom. A few seconds later we hear a second boom. The Vietcong had attacked the restaurant where we were supposed to be with two Claymore mines.
“I remember running down the stairs to a taxi,” says Reed. “I saw a flat bed truck go by with at least 18 bodies on it.”
It’s traumatic being in a war zone, but this was a little too close for comfort. Since then, and it’s been 58 years, every Friday night when he can Reed sips slowly away at a martini.
Terry Mosher writes a regular column for the Kitsap Sun on local sports personalities. Contact him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: A little big guy from Bremerton who ended up the 'Bird man of Orifino'