Scott Martin's first assignment was with the 25th Infantry in Cu Chi, near Saigon, in the 3rd Squadron, 4th Armored Cavalry, which utilized Sheraton tanks. His first firefight took place on Day 2.
EDITORS’ NOTE: Starting today and through Friday, the Lake Sun is proud to feature the brave accounts and courageous histories of local veterans who’ve served our country with honor and distinction. We not only thank them for their service, but also for sharing these personal stories and photographs with us.
A simple thank you might not seem like much, but to many veterans of our armed services, just a few heartfelt words of appreciation can have deep meaning. For Scott Martin, the idea brings a battle-hardened soldier to tears years after his service.
Since World War II, our soldiers and sailors have served in what end up being controversial or forgotten wars from the perspective of the American populace. For this Vietnam veteran, appreciation in the form of personal thank yous, handshakes, letters and cheering crowds during an Oct. 24, 2017, Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., was among some of the first appreciation - rather than ridicule - from his fellow citizens at large that he’d ever received for the sacrifices and losses he and others made on their behalf.
A resident of the Lake area for nearly 30 years with family background going back to 1950, Martin retired here after leaving the US Army a lieutenant colonel. Over 22 years, he had risen from the rank of private after being drafted in 1966.
At age 25, Martin says he ignored the draft notices, believing it must be a mistake. He was surely too old to be drafted, that was for 18 and 19 year olds. Originally from Kansas City, Martin was attending college at Missouri Valley. But that was no matter when the sheriff came to bring him in.
Martin says he promised the sheriff he’d report in, but the sheriff said that at that point, he had to physically place Martin on the bus to Kansas City to report in. He was whisked to KC for a physical that day, and at 2 a.m. the next day, he was at Fort Leonard Wood for basic training.
As one of the oldest recruits there, Martin had a rough start adjusting to Army life and attitudes.
Not allowed care packages from home with things like cookies and candy - “pogiebait” - one of the officers opened Martin’s mail and found just that. Martin had to do push-ups, taking a bite of his food from the front-leaning position each time. Martin says he began laughing, telling the officer opening someone else’s mail was a federal offense. He got his “!@# chewed” for that remark, but then eventually, a conversation that changed everything.
They explained that they understood he was older than the others, but that they were trying to prepare all of the recruits to be soldiers. Martin shaped up, and graduated with honors at the top of his recruit class, though he says it was “no feat” given how young all the others were.
From Fort Wood, Martin was on to Fort Ord, Cali. for advanced infantry training, and graduated from AIT with honors as well. He was promoted to corporal and made military police and acting sergeant.
He first tried to turn do officer candidate school, but that’s exactly where he ended up anyway. At Fort Gordon, Ga., he came in at 200 pounds and left at 155, and as a second lieutenant.
Sent to Germany with the 42nd Artillery Group as part of NATO forces, Martin tried to get into flight school but had a slight myopia so instead went to airborne school, jumping out of planes instead of flying them. He was promoted to first lieutenant.
Along the way, Martin decided to stick with the Army and make it a career.
“It’s just like any other job. You get out of it what you put in. And the training was so good, everything was an automatic reaction,” he says.
Then came orders for Vietnam. After a six-week combat course at Fort Sill, Okla., he was made a captain and deployed. There were mixed feelings, says Martin. “Some fear, but I saw opportunity.”
As a captain, he commanded two companies with a company ranging around 200 soldiers. His first assignment was with the 25th Infantry in Cu Chi, near Saigon, in the 3rd Squadron, 4th Armored Cavalry, which utilized Sheraton tanks. His first firefight took place on Day 2. It was a mix of adrenaline and almost automatic movement from training.
“I had changed six mags and didn’t know I had changed any.”
Then after a firefight, it was dealing with bodies and body parts of dead Viet Cong. The first time, Martin threw up.
“They said you’ll get used to it, and you did,” says Martin.
As psychological warfare, they would often arrange the bodies with signs for the Viet Cong, warning of what would happen to them for fighting the US Army. Martin took part in the Tet Offensive and three forays into Cambodia during three tours of duty.
“It was totally illegal, but we extended maps and played like we were still in Vietnam,” he says.
Recalling the soldiers under his command during Vietnam, Martin says, he got boys and sent home men. As a captain in a combat zone, he says he “ruled with an iron fist.” For all of their sakes, there could be no gray, only black and white, right and wrong.
“Weed was prevalent,” he says, but he had no tolerance for it and maintained a strict vigilance, watching for signs that someone was lighting up.
In other ways, too, Martin had to maintain discipline. Lying in rice paddies, leeches would attach to the soldiers, but no reaction, no noise could be allowed, lest they give away their position to the enemy. During his service in Vietnam, he earned one Bronze Star for Valor and four others for “doing his job,” he says.
“I thought I had an angel on my shoulder. There were so many times, it was so close,” recalls Martin. “I had a lieutenant tell me, ‘you’re not Audie Murphy.’”
Overall, Martin spent 20 months in Vietnam, with one break stateside. The one return home amidst war was marked by harassment as anti-war sentiment soared around San Francisco, a central transfer station for soldiers returning from Vietnam.
Laughed at for reacting to a car backfiring, spit on and generally harassed, says Martin, “We were the enemy.”
It was around Christmas time, and soldiers were trying to get home for the holidays. On the airplane, Martin was taking home, five GIs were kicked off to make room for college students. But the captain wouldn’t let that pass. He threw a fit and finally got seats for all of them, even if it meant sitting with the stewardess.
Martin’s time in Vietnam ended in 1971, as many others were returning.
“They didn’t know what to do with us,” he says. Martin first went to Fort Monmouth, N.J. for an advanced officer course, then the Army asked if anyone was interested in getting a degree in journalism at Drake University. Located in Iowa, just five hours from Kansas City, Martin jumped at it.
“I showed up in a suit and tie. Everybody else was a hippie,” he says.
But nobody there knew he was in the military, and Martin got that degree in journalism with an emphasis in radio and TV production. In 1975, he went to Fort Hill, Va. to make training films for the Army.
He met a southern belle here, his secretary’s sister, and got married. He and his wife Carol are happily married to this day.
Martin continued moving up the command.It was back to Germany as an operation officer tied to NATO, then Leavenworth, Kan. for Command and General Staff College and back to Fort Gordon, Ga. to work in Research & Development.
Martin was in on the development of the HumVee with GM in 1982-83 and of the CCUV with the Chrystler Corp. He was instrumental in bringing cellular communication to the field as well as satellite communication to commanders, making several trips to visit commanders in Korea in this time period as well as to the Pentagon - briefing people like Dick Cheney, the undersecretary of defense and the secretary of defense on projects that needed funding.
Martin then served as an instructor for captains at Leavenworth, but it was orders to return to Germany when his wife was in poor health that finally ended his rise. While Carol was willing to stay back with their young son, Martin decided that was enough though and retired to Camdenton. He saw a second career in real estate that lasted around 29 years. He also has a small farm where runs some cattle.
Over the course of his service, the military paid for Martin’s two masters degrees, business management and international relations. Martin says he loved his service and would “most definitely” do it again. He misses his work with the military.
“It was always a challenge.”
Exposed to Agent Orange - actually soaked in it at least three times - Martin has had no long-term health effects from it. His lingering tie to Vietnam has been nightmares. When he first came home from the Vietnam, his father told him he woke up the whole house yelling during the night.
Martin says he does not have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), calling the nightmares just a part of service, a part of the job. Less frequent over time, he still has occasional nightmares. His wife, he says, has learned to deal with them by just getting out of bed until they’re over.
During the recent Honor Flight, Martin was able to go to the Vietnam Memorial, stay and take it in. On a visit years earlier, he only stayed a few minutes.
“I couldn’t take it. Everything was fresh then, the friends you lost and the men you lost. This time was easier.”
The greatest part of the Honor Flight for Martin, however, were the crowds of people who came to meet the veterans in Washington, D.C., and in Missouri upon their return.
“The thank yous,” says Martin, his eyes tearing up. “They meant the world. I don’t think there was a dry eye among the veterans.”
A draftee just over 50 years now, Martin says he wishes the US would bring the draft back, not necessarily for war, but because of the discipline of the military.
And he quips, “they give good haircuts.”