|Heroism of Andy Martin – |
From a Basketball Championship at Bridgewater to the Silver Star in Vietnam
|Photo from The Award Ceremony for Silver Star|
|Andy Martin’s senior year at Bridgewater-Raritan High School in 1965 had been glorious. He was one of the stars of the basketball team that won the
state championship before a crowd of 10,000 at Atlantic City’s Convention Hall. As a basketball player, Andy was a rebel. He was vocal, aggressive, and
somewhat un-coachable. But he was the guy everyone wanted on their team as he knew how to win and always stood up for his teammates.
After Graduation Andy set his sights on playing college basketball and enrolled at Seton Hall. Unfortunately, his aggressive style that worked well with his high school players and coach did not fit with the Seton Hall team. Dissatisfied with the Seton Hall program, he stayed for his freshman year and transferred to Temple. Again, his aggressive style did not fit in with the Temple program and he eventually dropped out of college.
|Andy in the 1965 Championship Game|
|Andy realized that college was not for him. He debated what to do with his life. At that time (1968), the nightly television newscasts on Vietnam had sparked his curiosity and he decided to enlist. He went to Somerville to talk with an Army recruiter. The woman whom he met thought she recognized his name as the basketball star that played on Bridgewater’s championship basketball team and asked if it was him, to which he confirmed that it was. Her advice was that he go home and think it over – she recommended that he take a month to do this. Obviously, she felt that Vietnam was not a good choice for Andy. But he was determined to join and enlisted in the Army. This came as a shock to those that knew him. His good friend and ex-teammate Mike Grosso said “When Andy signed up for Vietnam no one could believe it.”|
|Off to Vietnam|
|After eight weeks of basic training and twelve weeks in radio school he arrived in Vietnam in September of 1968 for a twelve month tour of duty. He was immediately put into action to replace a radioman that had been killed. Andy established himself as a competent soldier – and also as a guy really looked out for his fellow soldiers. In Vietnam Andy noticed that there were two classes of soldiers. There were the guys like him who were serving a one year tour of duty in Vietnam. Then there were the career army guys known as “the lifers” who felt they were superior. The one year guys often become friends with each other, managed to have many good times, and neglected standard army protocol (such as saluting) whenever they could. The two groups had ongoing tension between them. To add to that tension, Andy was not the type to pacify these “career army men”. This would cause trouble later on.|
|First Field Assignment|
|In October of 1968, Andy’s first venture into the jungle was to go search for a patrol of a dozen men that had not reported back. He along with several other soldiers traversed the usual paths and established dugout areas where the missing patrol could have gone. They did indeed find the missing men; however, they were all dead. The scene showed that the unit had been caught by surprise as their helmets were all lined up – the way a group would store them when they felt safe. Judging from the evidence and estimating the time of death, Andy’s unit reasoned that their fallen comrades were caught unaware as they were probably listening to the World Series on the radio at the time that they were ambushed. Listening to America’s national pastime on the radio (even on a patrol) was a favorite hobby for these soldiers who were so far away from home. That year the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Detroit Tigers.|
|Bonds of Friendship for Life|
|His five good friends. |
(That's Duke on the bottom left)
|Andy is awarded The Silver Star for Bravery|
|On May 12th 1969, the North Vietnamese had taken over a compound in the village of Tu Tua. A few U.S. advisors were being held in that compound.
Intelligence said this was done by a special Vietcong unit who were a lightly armored “hit and run” outfit. Andy’s unit, which contained several hundred men,
was sent to re-take the compound. They arrived in the village and initially headed toward the compound confidently as they moved down the main street with many
heavy vehicles – tanks and armored tracks.
In the march down the main street Andy rode on top of an armored vehicle. Here Andy fired many shots from a gun that was mounted on the vehicle.
Some of these shots found their target.
As they advanced they discovered that the enemy had much more fire power than had been reported. They realized that they were fighting the well-organized, heavily armored, regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA), not the terror “quick hit” special Vietcong forces. Some U.S. soldiers were killed and others were injured.
|This photograph was taken during that battle|
Due to the intense enemy firepower, the U.S. forces had to quickly withdraw. They did not have time to go back the way they came so they ran out of the village
across an open field to take up a position 200 yards away from the village. However, when they did this, a dozen soldiers - many of them wounded -
were left behind. The dozen soldiers managed to take cover in a canal, the only available option they had in the open terrain. Soon intense enemy fire
had them pinned down unable to move. To make matters worse, they had limited ammo to defend themselves from the heavily armed NVA. The battle became a standoff.
Hours went by and no immediate plan was found to rescue the pinned down troops. The bulk of the U.S. troops - along with Andy - were still a couple hundred yards away across that open field. As the hot sweltering day went by a problem nearly as big as the enemy fire began to compound the issue. It was 100 degrees, very humid, and the pinned down soldiers had no water. The odds of survival for these dozen men - all suffering from extreme thirst, some injured, and running out of ammunition - were getting lower. They could perhaps try to run to safety if the opportunity was there. However, the terrain was not in their favor.
The large open field separated the trapped men from the other U.S. troops. Andy Martin and many others spent a great deal of time observing their buddies who were holding on in the canal across the field. They wondered what could be done. No officer gave an order to storm across the field as that would be suicidal.
|One friend of Andy’s, Ed Stoney, came to him and said we need to do something. I need “you” to go with me. You are the only guy who will do it.
We need to reach the stranded guys, at least bring them water so that they have a fighting chance. Andy knew the odds were not good for him to survive this
rescue attempt, but he decided to go. He thought “this could be it” - he could be killed here. Andy reminded himself that this is what he came to Vietnam for.
Years ago when there was a scuffle in a basketball game he was the first guy to get into the fight to stand up for his buddies.
The stakes were obviously higher here in Vietnam, but he felt this was no different. There was one other complication;
Andy had been hit by grenade fragments earlier on the initial run through the village and was bleeding from his hand. He decided that would not stop him.
Andy and Ed quickly planned their dangerous trek across the open field. Ed would carry water and Andy would bring smoke grenades to obstruct the view of the NVA machine gunners. They ran zigzagging across the open field under heavy enemy fire and arrived at the canal. They found one soldier was dead and several had injuries. For the wounded soldiers, while they had injuries, if it meant saving their lives they could still manage to run. With water to rejuvenate them, the men could now plan to evacuate from this death trap that had been their home for several hours.
|The firing positions of the enemy were identified. Andy and Ed would stay in the canal and provide suppressing fire as the others ran to safety.
As the once trapped soldiers ran across the open field, the enemy fire intensified, but the men all made it to safety. This still left Andy and Ed in the canal.
Air strikes were called in to allow them to run for safety and keep the NVA pinned down for their escape. Luckily, both men made it back safely under intense NVA
machine gun fire. The commanding officer later said that he did not know how they made it back against the intense enemy machine gun fire.
For his actions that day Andy Martin would be awarded The Silver Star. That is the third highest honor that can be bestowed for bravery. While Andy and his men survived this battle, the U.S. advisors (that were being held in the compound) who they were initially trying to reach were not so fortunate.
|The Playboy Centerfold - Hugh Hefner helps out the troops in Vietnam|
|In the barracks at Vietnam one's few possessions are priceless. As a prank one of Andy's buddies drew a mustache on a centerfold that Andy had hanging up.
This was tragic - that centerfold inspired him every day - he did not want to live without it.
Andy decided to write to Playboy directly and see if he could get a replacement centerfold as that issue was no longer available even in the states.
What he received back surprised him. Since Playboy had known that he was serving in Vietnam at the time they did something special for him. They sent him pictures of the previous 12 centerfolds. And to top it off each picture was autographed by the playmate herself.
Being the team player he was, Andy kept the photo of the girl that he had asked for and gave the others to his buddies.
|Click to see the letter from Playboy and the autographed picture|
|Today a photo of U.S. troops with a dead enemy soldier is a major week long (or more) story in the news. |
However, in the Vietnam era, things were much different.
Here U.S. troops stand next to a dead enemy spy who had been killed.
Andy saw the situation and like a few others pulled out his camera.
Just another photo for his future scrapbook.
Indeed times have changed.
|Vietnam is well known as a debacle. The army sometimes fought among themselves as much as they did the North Vietnamese.
On one occasion, the friction between Andy and the “career army men” also known as “lifers” to the draftees, reached a peak.
One evening one of the “lifers” came into his barracks and told
Andy that he had to have his dog “Duke” removed from his room and put outside. Long ago, as a puppy, Duke had wondered into the barracks and had been adopted
by Andy and his friends. Dogs were very common in the U.S. army encampments in Vietnam. They brought joy to the troops amidst the horrors of war.
This dog at times even traveled into the jungle with them. But the “lifers” decided to mess with Andy and try to enforce some nonsense regulation that animals were
not allowed in the soldier’s barracks. (These barracks were nothing official - just huts the troops assembled.) Andy was told the dog would have to be removed or
he would be written up. To add to the tension, it was raining out. He was being ordered to put his beloved dog out in the rain.
Andy had finally had it with these guys. During most battles in the jungles against the enemy the “lifers” remained at the base, rarely risking their lives. The only “battles” most of the “lifers” wanted to be part of were petty political battles against the guys who were serving one year terms in Vietnam. This time Andy was pushed over the edge.
|Andy with his beloved dog "Duke".|
The dog was not going out in the rain.
He grabbed a grenade and pulled the pin, yet he held his thumb on the safety switch. He told the “lifer” that if he followed through on making an issue of the dog,
that the grenade would be set off under his bed. The troublemaker quickly backed down, but informed the upper brass of what had transpired. The upper brass,
mostly career army types, were not going to let this pass. Andy was scheduled to be court-marshaled which could mean jail time and a dishonorable discharge.
He was assigned a lawyer and a trial date was set. His commanding officer, who always stood by him, helped Andy out. He reasoned Andy’s reaction, while extreme, was in response to political nonsense from a jealous army regular. Andy had been awarded the Silver Star and had served admirably. His commanding officer managed to convince the army brass that a Court Marshall was unnecessary. However, some kind of punishment was still required. Due to his record, and also because he was needlessly provoked by a “lifer”, it was agreed that Andy could accept a demotion in rank from an E5 to an E2. This was an offer that Andy could not refuse.
With his term of service in Vietnam nearing the end, he had his sights set on the Jersey Shore rather than the Jungles of Vietnam, thus the rank he left this insane place with was unimportant to him.
|Colonel Douglas Smith Came to Andy's aid|
|Comes to terms with his past as Vietnam Vet|
Upon his discharge, Andy would attend college at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. There he completed his degree and then became a gym teacher at
Snyder High School in Jersey City. Today he is retired. Even 40 years after Vietnam, the war still affects him as is the case with many Nam vets still haunted
by that tragic war.
Andy says he plays the part of the tough guy that can handle it, but many things still haunt him from the war. While he still has occasional nightmares, Andy has come a long way in dealing with the trauma he experienced. When he first came home in 1969, he admits that he was somewhat messed up. For the first 12 years after the war Andy did not talk about Vietnam and seldom told anyone he newly met that he had served.
In 1982, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was completed, Andy’s dad, a Navy veteran of World War II, said that they should go to the dedication ceremony.
Andy was reluctant at first, but agreed. His father and him traveled to Washington and stayed at a local hotel.
The night before the ceremony, his dad opened a special case that he had brought with him. In the case was a bottle of Jack Daniels and two shot glasses.
His dad said they should do a shot together – a toast from one veteran to another. It was a special moment between father and son.
At the ceremony the next day, Andy wore his official army uniform. The event moved him as he remembered the battles he fought and the friends that he had lost.
From that day on, he was a proud Vietnam veteran. He would visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Wall often after that, remembering and healing himself in the process.
Any old friends who would like to contact Andy can do so by emailing him at his correct email address (the newspaper had it wrong) email@example.com
|Other Photos from Andy Martin's Vietnam Scrapbook|
|People in the Villages of Vietnam|
|Rescue of a Wounded Soldier in the Jungle|
|On Leave in Vietnam|
|"Raritan-online" and The Breeze would like to thank Andy Martin for sharing his entire story - the good and the bad.|
His experiences represent both the heroics and the tragedies of the Vietnam War.