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Larry Raymond Martin
Courtesy Sharon Martin Orr,
sister of Larry Martin

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Larry Raymond Martin

"The youth of today could gain much by learning of heroes such as yourself, men and women whose courage and heart can never be questioned."

Curt Carter

Larry Raymond Martin was born on October 27, 1945. At the time of his birth, his father, C. Raymond Martin, was an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed on Tinian, which was part of the Mariana Islands. His unit performed maintenance on B-29 bombers to ensure they were ready 24/7 to make bombing raids on Japan. When the war ended, he remained on Tinian to ensure the planes flying members home were in safe flying condition. The Red Cross located him and notified him that he and his wife, Audra Katherine Vernon Martin (Katie), had a son. At Christmas 1945, he sent the following card to the son he had not yet seen:

Dear Son,
This is your first Christmas, and I am sorry that I can't be there to spend it with you. I hope that this war has brought a lasting peace to the world so that in the future you will always be able to spend Christmas with your loved ones. I will be home with you and your Mother next Christmas and for all that come in the future.
Merry Christmas, Dad

After his father was discharged and returned to West Virginia, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves. (There was no Air Force during World War II--it was called the Army Air Corps.) Two years later, in 1947, Larry's sister, Sharon, was born.

Larry grew up in an average middle-class home in Kanawha City. He attended Kanawha City Elementary, Horace Mann Junior High, and graduated from Charleston High School. When Larry was little more than a toddler, his family attended a Presbyterian Church in Kanawha City. That is where he met Mike Wilson who became one of his closest lifelong friends. Together they hunted salamanders and went frog-gigging. Larry was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout. He delivered papers for the Charleston Daily Mail. Larry and Mike had 22 cal. rifles and often went to a nearby rock quarry to shoot at tin cans.

Larry had artistic talent. He was interested in identifying different species of birds and began drawing and painting them when he was in elementary school. Later he drew original cartoons, some of which illustrated letters he sent home from Vietnam. He had a great sense of humor and enjoyed pulling a prank whenever the opportunity arose. Once he placed a rubber mouse coming out of a hole in the basement and waited upstairs for his mother to shriek when she saw it unexpectedly. He also cut a slit in a cake his sister had baked and slipped a coupon into the cake before it was iced. He insisted the coupon had been baked in the cake. On Saturday mornings he and another close friend, Roger White, rode their bikes to the Medicine Shop Pharmacy to read comic books. Because they rarely purchased anything, Larry's mother asked the proprietor if it was OK for them to be in the store those mornings. He assured her they were not causing any problems and they were welcome there.

In 1963, Larry, his friends Mike, Roger, Allen Bernstein, and several other friends graduated from CHS. In the fall of that year, they enrolled at West Virginia University. Larry chose aerospace engineering as his major. He also signed up for advanced ROTC. He joined the Sigma Nu fraternity. As the engineering program became more difficult, Larry's grades began to suffer.

When he came home for Christmas in 1967, he received a draft notice. Larry and William Timothy Wheeler, another WVU student from the Charleston area, left together for basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. After basic, Larry and Tim took different military paths. Tim chose to go Airborne and Larry selected the Combat Engineer Training Program. Larry was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he developed skills in basic demolition and explosive hazards. He was also instructed on construction of wire obstacles and bridge repair. He had been accepted for Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Larry reported to Fort Belvoir for a 23-week Combat Engineer Officer Candidate School (OCS). The program was rigorous, but he was determined. One senior officer candidate shared his sentiments:

The opportunity of attending OCS is not afforded to everyone. Some of you will be unable to meet the physical or mental requirements. Those of you who do meet the basic requirements probably have many questions you would like answered before making the decision to apply for OCS. As a senior candidate who has been through 21 weeks of a tough 23-week course, I may be able to answer some of your questions. Those of you who do not have an intense desire to become an officer should forget about applying. Primarily it is this desire that will carry you through your 6 months of training. There will be times when you will feel that you have been subjected to seemingly impossible hardships. Unless you have made up your mind to complete the course before you arrive at OCS, the chances are great that you will not be able to take it.

According to a pamphlet, "The OCS Story," published by the Army, the 23-week course is designed "to produce thoroughly competent, highly motivated second lieutenants." The course of instruction focused on:

Academic subjects, [including] Methods of Instruction, Map Reading, Field Engineering, Job Planning and Management, Company Administration, Military Justice, Communications, Combat Support and Combat Service Support, Land Mine Warfare, Demolitions, Theater of Operations, Construction, Fixed and Floating Bridges, Roads and Airfields, Engineer Reconnaissance, and Construction Equipment.

Larry graduated from OCS in December 1967. His father, C. Raymond Martin, who was still a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves, swore Larry in as a second lieutenant. After spending Christmas with his family in Charleston, Larry reported for duty at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. In October 1968 he received orders for Vietnam. He left for Vietnam on October 27. It was his twenty-third birthday.
Katie, Larry, and Sharon Martin as Larry prepares to leave for Vietnam. Courtesy Sharon Martin Orr

Katie, Larry, and Sharon Martin as Larry prepares to leave for Vietnam. Courtesy Sharon Martin Orr

In the area where Larry was assigned, Army personnel encountered primarily Viet Cong guerrillas as opposed to the North Vietnamese Army. This made it difficult to identify the enemy, who were dressed in civilian clothing and entrenched among the civilian population of South Vietnamese. Additionally, unbeknownst to the newly arriving American troops, the civilians who lived in that area were hostile toward U.S. military personnel, because unbeknownst to the American soldiers, the My Lai massacre had taken place in the area on March 16, 1968. During that tragedy, a company of American soldiers had killed a village of 504 unarmed citizens comprised of elderly men, women, and children.

The area was laced with land mines, booby traps, and tunnels. One early assignment of Larry and his unit was to clear the area of land mines and other explosive devices, as well as to locate and destroy a labyrinth of underground tunnels constructed by the Viet Cong guerrillas. Some of the tunnels had been there for years and were vast and elaborate. They could be utilized to store weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, and other provisions. Because the Vietnamese were smaller in stature than the Americans, they were able to access the tunnels through much smaller openings, enabling them to hide and escape and avoid detection. The engineers were also involved in construction projects including building roads and bridges.

In January 1969, Larry wrote home to say that he would probably be out of touch for a while as his company would be involved in a lengthy complex operation. That operation was entitled "Operation Russell Beach" and involved forces from the Army, Navy, and Marines. The Batangan Peninsula was a stronghold for the Vietnamese guerrillas, but it was also home for 12,000 civilians. The mission entailed moving as many of the civilian population from the Batangan Peninsula as possible to enable the forces to eliminate the insurgent population. The population was largely removed from the peninsula during the assault phase, and a clear and search operation was followed by the construction of new roads and hamlets. The population was allowed to return in April 1969 together with South Vietnamese government institutions. VC losses in Operation Russell Beach were 158 killed, 116 suspects detained, and 55 individual and six crew-served weapons captured. U.S. losses were 56 killed.

After the area had been cleared of enemy bunkers and sanctuaries, a massive pacification effort began. This final phase involved returning civilians to their homes and aiding them in construction of fencing and wire barriers around hamlets and villages north of Quang Ngai City. Many years after the war ended, Larry's commanding officer, Captain Warren Sullivan, related the engineers did not receive sufficient credit for their contributions at Russell Beach. He was of the opinion most of the accolades went to the infantry, and the engineers were just there to support the infantry units if they came under attack. The Americal Division, of which Larry's unit was a part, concluded Operation Russell Beach on July 21, 1969.

Combat Engineer Vehicle D, the vehicle Larry was in at his death. Courtesy Sharon Martin Orr

Combat Engineer Vehicle D, the vehicle Larry was in at his death. Courtesy Sharon Martin Orr

Upon the conclusion of Operation Russell Beach, letters home suddenly stopped. After a couple of weeks passed, Larry's father contacted the Red Cross, which located him in a military hospital in Chu Lai. Larry had become critically ill and had to be packed in ice to lower his fever. He had been delirious for several days and unable to write home. Once his physical condition improved, he was able to make one of only a couple of calls home. Due to his illness he missed his R and R (rest and relaxation). In June of 1969, he was able to go on R and R to Singapore. His sister had just returned following graduation from WVU. Larry called her on June 4. There were no cell phones then. It was the only time she talked to him since he left for Vietnam. Larry told her he was having breakfast in bed and enjoying his vacation from the war. Thirteen days later, he was killed in action by a command-denotated mine. Three other soldiers were killed with him. His friend Timothy Wheeler had been killed on March 12.

Larry was a second lieutenant when he went to Vietnam. While there he was promoted to first lieutenant. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters and V Device. The citation accompanying the Second Oak Leaf Cluster reads as follows:

Date of Action 17 June 1969

For heroism on connection with ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. First Lieutenant Martin distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 17 June 1969 while serving as a platoon leader with Company B, 26th Engineer Battalion. On that date, the company was constructing wire defensive perimeters on the Batangan Peninsula. Lieutenant Martin's mission was to clear fields of fire and instruct civilians in the area how to construct barbed wire barriers around their villages. Volunteering to precede the main element into the area Lieutenant Martin led a reconnaissance team to survey the route of march and work site. As the team completed their mission and were returning to Landing Zone Minuteman, the combat engineer vehicle was ambushed by a commend detonated mine and intensive automatic weapons fire. Lieutenant Martin was mortally wounded in the attack. His courageous actions in volunteering for the dangerous mission prevented the main convoy from being ambushed. First Lieutenant Martin's personal heroism, professional competence, and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflected great credit upon himself, the Americal Division, and the United States Army.

L-R: Larry's parents and sister with an Air National Guard officer as they receive his commendations. Courtesy Sharon Martin Orr

L-R: Larry's parents and sister with an Air National Guard officer as they receive his commendations. Courtesy Sharon Martin Orr

Larry Martin's military marker in Mountain View Memorial Park indicates he was a first lieutenant at the time of his death.
family marker

Larry Martin's military marker in Mountain View Memorial Park indicates he was a first lieutenant at the time
of his death. Also shown is the family marker. Find A Grave photos courtesy Richard Schoening

Lt. Martin is buried at Mountain View Cemetery. His grave looks over the City of Charleston, where he grew up. He has never been forgotten by his family or friends.

This article, entitled "A Tribute to My Brother," was contributed by Sharon Martin Orr
She wrote the article upon request from William J. Vernon III, cousin of Larry Raymond Martin, and friend of Patricia Richards McClure, editor
October 2020


Larry Raymond Martin

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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