On Oct. 27, 1945, Raymond Martin was 7,656 miles from Charleston on the tiny island of Tinian, in the Northern Mariana Islands. He was an aircraft maintenance officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps. From his perch, he saw history made. But on this day, he wasn’t pondering history. Here’s the story.
From Tinian, on Aug. 6, a B-29 named Enola Gay was launched, bound for Hiroshima carrying a payload nicknamed “Little Boy.” Three days later, a second mission was launched to Nagasaki, with the B-29 Bockscar carrying “Fat Man.” Soon after came the Japanese surrender.
But by October, Raymond was focused on other things. His son, Larry Raymond Martin, was being born in Charleston, although he wouldn’t get to see him for nine more months.
Young Larry and, eventually, his sister Sherry, grew up on Washington Avenue in Kanawha City, where they attended Kanawha City Baptist Church.
A childhood friend said Larry loved everything in nature. He caught critters out of creeks and made dip nets out of old citrus fruit bags and coat hangers.
He traipsed the wooded areas of Kanawha City, graduating from BB guns to single-shot .22s. On the densely wooded Mount Alpha, no beer bottle was safe. And Larry wasn’t above surprising his mother with a mechanical mouse in their basement.
Larry, like his sister, attended Charleston High School, graduating with the class of 1963. Girls, boats and cars consumed much of those days.
From Charleston High, he went to West Virginia University, eventually becoming a member of Sigma Nu and majoring in aerospace engineering.
Larry thoroughly enjoyed college. There were John Dogs at Town Hill Grocery, Friday afternoons at the Olympia and Richwood’s Confectionery, where it’s said ice-cold 32-ounce fishbowls of Budweiser were served.
Like many, Larry was enthusiastic about college, yet less so about studying. By his second year, he was meandering and considering what to do with his life. There was one obvious alternative in those days: the U.S. Army.
Larry completed basic at Fort Gordon (Augusta, Georgia), and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Soon, the Army found out what a sharp trooper it had and sent him to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. His father, Raymond, then retired as a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force Reserve, pinned 2nd lieutenant bars on Larry.
He made at least one trip to WVU in the fall of 1968. Another high school friend remembers him as proudly wearing his officer’s uniform and being enthusiastic about the Army and his career.
What many don’t know was that, while Larry was serving, he was accepted again at WVU, where he planned to attend after his enlistment.
Of course, the Army had plans, as well. He was sent to Vietnam — specifically, the Batangan Peninsula, 100 miles south of Da Nang. There, the peninsula juts like an outward belly button into the South China Sea.
On June 17, 1969, Larry and his platoon were returning from a reconnaissance mission. The whole platoon was hanging off their M728 Combat Engineer Vehicle, which looks like a tank with a small bulldozer blade on the front.
An improvised explosive device had been placed in a tree. As the M728 passed underneath, the IED was detonated. Larry and three others were killed.
Larry was awarded the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters and a V for valor. His citation reads, “Volunteering to precede the main element into the area, he and his reconnaissance team was returning to Landing Zone Minuteman when they were ambushed, and he was mortally wounded.”
His name is inscribed on the Vietnam War Memorial, Panel 22W Line 065.
Larry’s childhood fishing buddy was an honorary pallbearer. Another classmate, who became a Washington, D.C., police officer, never failed to stop and pay homage at the wall when in the area.
Larry rests in the Mountain View Memorial Park Cemetery overlooking Charleston.
It’s people like Larry Raymond Martin that Memorial Day is all about.