Coming Tuesday: A special salute to our local World War II veterans
The Martin brothers went off to war not knowing if they’d ever see each other again, and it was nearly two years before they were reunited on their family’s farm.
Now in their 80s, the three brothers are part of a vanishing generation that can look back on a common experience that made them closer as brothers than they already were.
Clifton, Ray and H.V. Martin worked with their father farming cotton, corn and raising livestock in Forsyth County when duty called in the form of a draft letter and took them away from home for the first time in their lives.
H.V., then 21, got the order to report first, in April 1944.
The Army sent him to train in Fort Meade, Md., then on to Texas.
"They claimed it was mountain training, but there wasn’t no mountains there," said H.V Martin, now 84 and living in Forsyth County.
He would soon enough see the real mountains of Northern Italy, where "we went into combat pretty quick after we got over there," braving German artillery and machine gun fire.
H.V. Martin said his superiors were blunt with their orders.
"They told us one night, ‘There’s a mountain, and we want you on top of that mountain at sunrise,’" H.V. Martin recalled. "The next morning we were on top of that mountain, but we lost about half the company to get there."
The fighting tapered off soon after that battle. As victory over Germany came, H.V. Martin and his fellow soldiers in the European theater geared up for what promised to be a bloody invasion of the Japanese mainland.
His brothers Clifton and Ray, called up within days of each other in early 1945, also figured to be part of that invasion.
Ray Martin was 18 when he got his notice to report.
"I got mine the day after I registered," recalled Ray Martin, now 82 and living in Gainesville.
Both Ray and Clifton trained at the same time — though they stayed in separate barracks — in Camp Blanding, Fla. They shared concerns about their survival, both for themselves and their brothers. There were reports of fierce fighting in the Philippines, where tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers had been killed that year.
"It was beginning to be a pretty rough thing, just before we got away," said Clifton, now 86.
But fate, and the atomic bomb, would intervene.
"I was on a ship to go overseas on the 12th day of August, and the war ended on the 14th day," Ray Martin said. "I know that atomic bomb saved a lot of lives. It cost a lot, too."
Ray and Clifton found themselves part of the occupation forces in a defeated Japan, where they say they were treated well, if somewhat fearfully, by the conquered Japanese.
"When we first went in, (the Japanese) were scared," Ray Martin recalled. "The boys would come back to camp with radios and clocks. (The Japanese) would give them all kind of stuff. They was scared and they’d give ‘em anything."
Ray and Clifton took train trips to visit one another while in Japan; Clifton was stationed in Yokohama and Ray was further south. H.V. Martin would not see his brothers until his discharge.
They would have written, "but we didn’t know what address to send it to," H.V. Martin joked.
For the Martin brothers, the two worst things about serving in the war had nothing to do with the hazards or the fear. It was the sicknesses they remember most — being homesick, and being seasick.
"I was bad homesick," Ray Martin recalled. "I missed being on the farm."
All struggled with nausea aboard the huge transport vessels that carried them overseas.
"I was sick 11 days on a ship," H.V. Martin said. "I was sick before we even pulled out of the harbor."
Ray Martin said he battled seasickness en route to the Philippines, then again on the trip to Japan, with nothing but hard-boiled eggs to treat the nausea.
"I said when I got on a ship going home, I wouldn’t get seasick," Ray Martin said. "But I did."
None of the brothers has ridden on a vessel bigger than a fishing boat since.
The Martin brothers don’t remember if their mother and three sisters cooked them a big meal when they were all together again back home, but they know they were glad to see them. Ray and Clifton Martin took home souvenirs: Ray brought back a Japanese saber, Clifton a Japanese rifle.
H.V. Martin didn’t take home any mementos of the war. The most treasured things he held during his time overseas were letters from his sweetheart back home, Bernice.
"We got married two or three days after I got home," he said.