Martin remembers numerous landings his crew made and the many fellow sailors who never made it back. The last days of the war were the hardest, as the fleet began invading Japan. During the last push, more than 40 percent of their personnel never even made it to land, Martin said.
“Over 500,000 of our generation didn’t come home and you ask yourself all your life, ‘Why wasn’t I part of that bunch?’” Martin said.
This Memorial Day weekend, Martin will honor his fallen brothers-in-arms by joining 45 other World War II veterans on Honor Flight Austin’s George H.W. Bush Flight to Washington, D.C., organized by Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
Locally, 31 other veterans also will be taking a similar trip as part of the Brookshire’s Grocery Co. Heroes Flight, which will take seven World War II and 24 Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., departing on Monday.
This is the first year the Land Commissioner’s office has partnered on the flight Martin will join. He is one of eight veterans from the Watkins-Logan Texas State Veterans Home in Tyler who will make the trip.
“These guys have decorations, but they don’t talk about it. The war was hard on all of us,” Martin said. “It left its mark … I just always felt like the real heroes were the guys I knew who didn’t come back.”
Martin said he expects the trip will be emotional.
“The part that you don’t see until you get there is the wall with the stars on it – that makes old men cry at the drop of a hat,” Martin said.
Martin hopes the flight’s namesake, President George H.W. Bush, is able to meet up with the group. The former president also is a World War II veteran.
Donna Huffman, the veterans home’s onsite representative for the Texas Veterans Land Board, said the office wants to send as many veterans as possible on the trip.
“It means the world to them,” said Edgar Hernandez, assistant director of nurses.
“I have guys that from the day we told them they’re going, they’ve had their stuff packed, and they were ready to go.”
The men will be honored in D.C. by George P. Bush. During the flight, Ramirez will present the veterans with a mail call. Their families have written them all letters thanking them for their courage and sacrifice.
“It’s really huge to them, it’s the chance of a lifetime,” Huffman said. “They are World War II veterans, and this could be the only chance they have to see their memorial. They’re so excited.”