From his home at The Lantern at Morning Pointe of Collegedale, Cecil Martin, 87, hasn’t forgotten that day long ago, when he and 30,000 other Marines, Navy and support personnel landed on the beaches of Iwo Jima. It was the very first day of the World War II invasion. His boat came under heavy shellfire and only half of his platoon actually made it onto the beach. “I just kept low to the ground and kept my weapon clean while shooting,” explains Mr. Martin.
“You don’t worry about what’s going to happen to you; you just worry about staying alive, right at the time. I was shot at a lot, but I didn’t get a scratch.”
Mr. Martin and part of his platoon spent the first whole day dug in on the beach and under intense fire until the next morning when the rest of his group arrived. He ended up in Iwo Jima for almost a month and was always in close proximity of the heaviest fighting. “You didn’t think; you just followed orders and did what you were told on how to be prepared. It was up to us to do the rest,” says Mr. Martin.
As a sergeant in charge of food service with the Headquarters Company, 5th Marine Amphibious Corp, one of Mr. Martin’s favorite stories involves fried apples. One day he managed to round up flour, sugar and canned apples. He made a makeshift stove out of an ammunition can and cooked up some fried apple pies. Mr. Martin shared how two photographers with Life magazine came along and stuffed themselves full of apple pie. They took his photo and said he would be in Life magazine. “Several months passed and no pictures showed up,” laughs Mr. Martin. “I finally figured out that the photographers had probably talked a good game just to get some homemade fried apple pies.”
After the surrender, Mr. Martin went into Sasebo, Japan for the occupation. He was still in charge of setting up the food service for the mess halls. He remembers the devastation Japan endured and how poor and destitute the Japanese people were. “I befriended many of them and employed many as civilian workers in the mess hall,” says Mr. Martin. He went on to do several more tours in Japan after the war. His last assignment was running the mess hall at the Marine Base Camp at the foot of Mount Fuji. “I was proud to stay in the service after the war,” exclaims Mr. Martin. He made it his career for 20 years.
On this Memorial Day, as Mr. Martin once again looks back, remembering that fateful day at age 18 when he volunteered to serve his country, to fighting in the bloodiest battle for American troops; his advice to others who have served, “try to clear it all out of your mind. It’s in the past; put it in the past,” explains Mr. Martin. “I wouldn’t want to relive it, but if I had to, I’d gladly do it again.”