By KEVIN KELLEY
June 6, 1944, is one of the defining dates of not only World War II, but of the entire 20th century. The Allied invasion of northern France accelerated the countdown to the defeat of Nazi Germany. And Dana Martin was there.
A resident of Brighton Gardens of Westlake assisted living residence since May, Martin was serving as a pharmacist’s mate, first class (today called a hospital corpsman) on a tank landing ship supporting the invasion. His vessel’s assignment was to unload supplies and pick up the wounded.
The vessel reached the beach around 11 a.m., Martin recalled, some five hours after the first troops came ashore. Before the ship’s crew could complete its mission the tide went out, leaving Martin’s vessel stuck on Omaha Beach.
Several hours after the invasion began, the scene on the beach was still chaotic, Martin recalled.
“Nobody knew what was going on or nothing,” Martin told West Life. “Everybody just did the best they could.”
Martin was among 20 who took part in a special Veterans Day steak luncheon Brighton Gardens held Monday for its resident veterans.
Now 90, the soft-spoken Martin grew up in the hills of West Virginia. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Martin enlisted in the Navy.
Why the Navy?
“You always have clean sheets and a bunk to sleep in,” Martin explained.
After taking part in Allied invasions of North Africa, Martin was among the thousand of U.S. military personnel assigned to England to take part in the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.
The mandatory nighttime blackouts to counter German bombing is Martin’s main memory of his time in Plymouth, England.
“Everything was blacked out,” he recalled. “You had to feel your way along.”
On D-Day, the tide eventually came back in on Omaha Beach after some six hours, allowing Martin’s tank landing ship to leave. But those six hours were nerve-racking, Martin said. German guns continued to pound Omaha Beach, and German fighter planes passed over four or five times firing their machine guns while his vessel was stranded, Martin recalled.
After returning to the United States, Martin traveled through the Panama Canal after being assigned to the Pacific theater, where he took part in the invasion of Okinawa. The 82-day battle for the strategic Japanese island was one of the bloodiest of the Pacific war. The Okinawa battle was more difficult than the Normandy invasion, Martin said. The German soldiers would surrender rather than get shot, he said. In contrast, he said, the Japanese fighters would pretend to surrender, then shoot.
“We were training to invade Japan when they surrendered,” Martin recalled. “The bomb saved a lot of lives. Truman had a hard decision to make, but he made the right one.”
While Martin’s worst wartime injury was a scrape to his leg, his brother Robert, who also served in the Navy, was not so lucky. He was among the nearly 900 crew members of the USS Indianapolis who perished when the cruiser was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in July 1945.
After being discharged, Martin returned to Union, W.V.a, where he went to watchmaking school and later fixed watches in his own jewelry store. Also in Union, he met his wife, Garnet, who passed away about two years ago. In the mid-1950s, the couple moved to the Cleveland area, where Martin worked for the railroads for 33 years. The Martins spent two decades living in South Carolina after Dana retired.
His daughter, Dee Eisner, a resident of Westlake, said she only learned of her father’s war experiences when she was an adult.
“He never talked about it much,” she said, adding that his grandsons have succeeded in getting him to talk about his Navy years.
Exercise from the years of playing golf when he lived in South Carolina is the only secret he can give for a long life, Martin said. He still plays miniature golf in his apartment at Brighton Gardens, he said.
As for other current hobbies, Martin jokes that he likes to pester people.
“I’ll get people in an argument, then walk off and let them fuss,” he said.
Martin still has the original copy of his Navy discharge papers, which lists the medals and decorations he earned: Pacific Theater Ribbon, Good Conduct Ribbon, American Theater Ribbon, Victory Medal and European Ribbon.
Also among his possessions is a letter sent to World War II Navy veterans on the occasion of their return to civilian life by then-Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. Part of it reads:
“You have served in the greatest navy in the history of the world.
“It crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving their surrenders only four months apart.
“No other navy at any time has done so much. For your part in these achievements you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The Nation which you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude.”