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Fri, Nov. 15

Camp Verde man shares his Vietnam experience with son, father

Camp Verde resident Mike Martin looks at a photograph of he and his father, both serving their country in Vietnam, on a laptop computer. Martin has been able to share his Vietnam experience with both his father and his son, Russ. VVN/Bill Helm

Camp Verde resident Mike Martin looks at a photograph of he and his father, both serving their country in Vietnam, on a laptop computer. Martin has been able to share his Vietnam experience with both his father and his son, Russ. VVN/Bill Helm

CAMP VERDE – In September, Russ Martin took his father, Mike, to Wichita, Kan., for a reunion of the First Battalion of the 12th Cavalry Regiment, C Company.

Each of the reunion attendees, not including spouses or offspring, made it to Vietnam as a group in 1965, the younger Martin said.

“They were the first battle division to go to Vietnam,” Russ Martin said of his father and his fellow soldiers.

Martin has heard a lot of his father’s war stories. He likely wasn’t prepared for how graphic these stories could be told by the very men who shared those experiences.

“A significant amount of gore is associated with war,” he said. “I was fascinated with the descriptions I heard that you’d otherwise see in gory movies. They were talking about things they still have nightmares of. Falling into a foxhole, trying to find his guys. It’s amazing that they’re telling those stories first person.”

One of those stories told by Mike Martin, who served as a sergeant in the US Army and was in Vietnam in parts of 1965 and 1966, was of a man who he visited with at the September reunion.

“He was in the foxhole. In all fairness, he should have died. And you have both of those guys sitting at the table,” Martin said about the man in his father’s nightmare, the man he met in Kansas. “It was fascinating to me, an experience I’ll never forget.”

Russ Martin will also never forget stories of Agent Orange, which the family believes caused Mike Martin’s Parkinson’s disease.

“There’s a whole new level of appreciation for those serving and those who have served,” Russ Martin said. “We were raised very patriotic. Not that I understand it like those who have fought, but I understand it more now.”

Mike Martin’s time in the Army covered part of 1964 through part of 1970. Following basic training, Martin went to Vietnam for about a year, then returned stateside to Fort Huachuca where he spent another year.

His final three years were as active reserve.

A man soft-spoken and with few words, he said that war “isn’t as fun as it’s made out to be.”

“It’s a harrying experience,” Mike Martin said.

Harrying means to harass, annoy, or prove a nuisance to, by, or as if by repeated attacks. It also means to worry.

Mike Martin has been to a dozen reunions in all, half of which involve that first group that went to Vietnam. The camaraderie, the friends he made in Vietnam and after Vietnam; those are the positives Martin takes with him from his service time.

Martin also met his wife Nancy in the military. Their first date was Nov. 24, 1966.

“My mom invited him over for Thanksgiving,” Russ Martin said.

They married one year later, to the day. Nancy, who passed away 50 years, 10 months later, taught him unconditional love.

“I miss her,” Mike Martin said through his tears.

Martin said that other than family, his love of country is “the best thing in the world.”

Not too many men get to serve in the military with their father. For Martin, his father Charles was a career military man with 27 years in the US Air Force. In 1966, The Martins reunited in Vietnam for a short time.

“He came down to see me a couple of times,” Mike Martin said. “It was interesting, enjoyable for starters. We talked about business and personal things, mostly personal.”

In one photograph the Martin family has, young Mike listens as his father Charles shows him a plane.

In one memory, Mike Martin recalled the first time being shot at. He was barely three feet from someone who was hit.

“I don’t recall how I was feeling at the time,” he said. “But I’m sure (my heart) was pumping pretty hard.”

Martin said he learned responsibility when he was in the service. “That’s the main thing,” he said. “I had several people to live for.”

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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