Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 12, 2013

Local veteran recalls time in service

Amanda Browning
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — GREENSBURG – Ripley County native Randall Martin was almost 25 when he was drafted to serve in the United States Army in 1941.

Originally, Martin was told he had to serve just one year because the United States was not yet involved in the war. He was nearing the end of his year when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and the US took an active role in World War II. Randall continued to serve his country with pride across multiple continents and battles.

After being drafted, Martin was sent to Ft. Bliss, Texas. He hadn’t realized that the Army still used horses before he arrived, but both Ft. Bliss and another base in Kansas had a full horse cavalry. During Martin’s time there, the horse cavalry was dismounted and the troops switched to mechanized forms of conveyance when they were deployed to the Pacific Theatre. Randall served in the 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division.

“I was tickled to death to get off the horses. It’s a rough life riding horses so much. During maneuvers in Louisiana, we rode more than 900 miles on horseback in two months,” Randall said, adding that the poor beasts were ridden until their backs were raw.

When Martin was deployed overseas, he faced combat in several places, the worst of which he said happened in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. He also fought in New Guinea, Luzon and the Bismarck Archipelago.

“We all had a little trench shovel we carried with us. You’d be surprised how fast you can dig a hole to get underground when you’re under fire,” Randall said, grinning.

Randall received the Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon with four bronze stars, one for each of the campaigns in which he fought; the American Theatre Ribbon for the time he served in the US; the Philippine Liberation Medal with one bronze star for his combat time in the Philippines; the Good Conduct Ribbon; the Bronze Star Medal for armed combat with the enemy and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

During his service in the US Army, Martin said he made several lifelong friends that he kept in touch with after the war. Sadly, only one is still alive and he resides in Minnesota. Randall said he still corresponds with his friend. Randall said he was lucky to not have sustained any injuries while in the service, though many of his friends and fellow soldiers did not fare as well.

While he may not have sustained any physical injuries, Randall was forced to watch other soldiers killed right next to him, which leaves a scar all its own, according to him.

“The fellows who were killed would want people to know how it was,” Randall said. “When you’re out there, everything is hollering, yelling, screaming and all that. You’re all tense at all times when it’s like that.”

Randall and the other soldiers in the 1st Cavalry Division were the first regular division to arrive in Australia, Tokyo and Tacloban, a Philippine city about 360 miles east of the Philippine capital Manila. His division did not fight in Australia, but merely underwent additional training.

Martin said his time in Australia would have to be his fondest set of memories from his time in the service. Because he was only training there and not fighting as he had elsewhere, Randall describes his time in Australia as peaceful.

“The people were very nice. When we went into Brisbane, we were treated wonderful there,” he said.

Unfortunately, Randall had to endure a number of less-than-pleasant times as well. He said the most pitiful sight he saw during his time overseas was at San Tomas University in Manila. He witnessed American civilians being held there and starved to death.

“They were just skin and bones when I saw them. I just can’t imagine why anyone would treat another person like that. But in wartime, terrible things happen,” Randall said.

Speaking of the terrible things that occur during a war led Martin to tell the Daily News of the most gruesome sight he witnessed during World War II. Randall came upon several Philippine guerilla fighters that had captured seven Japanese soldiers. The guerillas had stripped the soldiers and laid them out on the beach. Some of them had been decapitated, while others had been maimed by the loss of their limbs and one had his heart removed and laid on his chest. It was a sight that Martin said he will never forget as long as he lives.

“With war, even when it’s over and done with, you still can’t get it out of your mind,” he added. “It’s a terrible situation to be in.”

Even during the fighting though, Randall was able to find some moments of humor. He was out in the open during an air battle being fought over the lines. He remembers planes being shot down and wings falling everywhere around him, taking out soldiers on the ground. He noticed a house sitting atop a nearby cliff and figured he would be safer there so he maneuvered his way to the shelter. When the bombing finally stopped, he was able to look around the house where he’d sought refuge and discovered it was filled with huge glass bottles.

“If a bomb had hit there, I’d still be picking out glass,” he said, laughing.

Randall denies that his actions while serving the US were brave, though many would likely disagree with him. He maintains that he was just trying to survive, like everyone else out there. He didn’t receive leave while he was serving, but he said he doesn’t regret that.

“I’m proud I served and I’m glad the country is free,” Randall said. “There will never be another country like the USA.”

He said New Guinea was the most backward place he’d ever seen. He compared it to places in the Stone Age, saying there were cannibalistic tribes all over and the soldiers often joked that they should all stay away from the villages when they were alone at night, lest they end up in someone’s dinner pot. 

Randall was discharged from the military on September 13, 1945, with a rank of T/5, or Technician Fifth Grade. He drove a weapons carrier as one of his military duties.

“The first night home, I told my mom I wasn’t going to sleep in the bed. I said I was just going to dig a hole in the ground because that’s where I was used to sleeping,” Randall said.

The Martin family was able to experience a joy that few families knew during World War II. Randall’s older brother, John, was drafted in 1942 and stationed in Alaska. He was given furlough and came home to visit on September 14, 1945.

Randall said his mother was beyond thrilled to have both of her sons back home, especially within two days of each other. She got out the fine china reserved for special guests and the Martins enjoyed a family meal together.

Martin was home for six months before he went back to work. He worked at the Felco plan in Connersville for four and a half years before moving on to work for the State Highway Department for the next two years. When he left there, Randall worked as a machine operator at Hill-Rom in Batesville for 28 years until he retired in 1980.

Randall married Marie Fisse in 1958 and the two enjoyed 54 years of happy marriage before her death in 2012. The two never had children of their own, but Randall said Marie babysat when they got married and they often spent time with the children of family members.

Though he said he could do without some of the memories he has from the war, when asked if he would still serve if he could go back to 1941 and was given a choice, Randall said he would.

“If Uncle Sam called on me and I was young again, I’d still do my part for this country,” Randall said.

Contact: Amanda Browning 812-663-3111 x7004