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Corporal Charles R. Martin

Section Leader, Heavy Machine Gunner

D Company, 142nd Infantry Regiment

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Charles R. Martin was born in a small rural parish of northern Kentucky to a farming family. As he grew, the charm of the Kentucky countryside fell from Martin and he moved in with an aunt living in the big city of Cincinnati, Ohio. Old enough to work on his own, Martin found a job working as a pin boy at the Price Hill Exchange/Red Richmond Bowling Alley in the west end. It was here that he picked up a knack for bowling and before long found himself playing at some of the biggest tournaments in Ohio. Martin was also a pitcher for the local Acme Baseball Club and became one of Ohio’s young sports stars, considered one of the state’s best up-and-coming bowlers by the time the war hit.

      In early 1943 Martin came home to his apartment to find a draft notice. Shipping off to war, he spent the first half of his year training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia before finding himself on his way overseas where he joined the famed 36th Infantry Division in December of that year. Trained as a machine gunner, Martin was sent to the 142nd Infantry Regiment’s heavy weapons company, D Company, where he began as an assistant gunner and ammo carrier for a .30 machine gun team.

 

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      With only a few weeks in the company under his belt, now PFC Martin received his first wound in action while assaulting the San Pietro line in December. While moving to assist a friendly machine gun, Martin’s leg and foot were ripped by a burst of German MP40 fire, leaving him struggling on the ground as his company retreated. He lay there for the majority of the night before medics found him, but not before frostbite set into his feet. Martin was brought off the line and spent several months in the hospital before rejoining the company for the Italian spring offensive.

      Martin’s next story of heroism came in the weeks after the second invasion of France, undertaken by the 36th and other divisions, along the southern part of the country. The initial fighting was light, but the cleanup of the assault, Operation Dragoon, proved fiercer. Just over a week after the initial landings, the 142nd IR was tasked with surrounding and eliminating a strong pocket of German resistance. Maneuvered along the Rubion River north of Montelimar, the regiment was intended to hold off a potential 11th Panzer Division attack trying to push back the allied forces holding many other German troops trapped in a pocket. While the regiment was successful in securing their lines, the inevitable German counterattack came quickly on the 25th of August to break and push through the American lines. Repelling the first attack, the Germans attacked once again on the 26th to smash the 1st Battalion’s positions when a battalion of German infantry, supported by several tanks, crossed the river near Darnes around noon and engage with the 36th GIs on some nearby farmland. The T-Patchers quickly drew into an attack position and called upon two of the regimental tank destroyers for support. Martin’s machine gun team was advancing to support a rifle platoon beginning the attack when all of a sudden the German infantry and tanks opened fire. The rifle platoon built a defensive line around Martin’s machine gun where he assisted his comrades to put the gun into action and supplied a constant feed of ammunition. With the battle going nowhere, Martin decided to act. Grabbing his carbine and a handful of rifle grenades, he dashed across the open to the German position, killing several of them in the process. Somehow unscathed, he ducked into cover as a supporting German Panther advanced toward him and his comrades. Remaining staunchly in his position, Martin began launching rifle grenades at the tank, disabling it to allow for relief on the defenders and opening up the panzer for a killing blow. Around this time two regimental tank destroyers had arrived and knocked out the still-working panzer while a flamethrower was put to use against the Panther, eliminating it for good. With their armor support seriously diminished, Martin’s company pushed further and ran the Germans from the area. For his heroism in attacking the German line and successfully assaulting a German tank which contributed greatly both to its destruction and the overall success of the defense, Martin was awarded the Silver Star Medal.

 

A photograph of the knocked-out Panther at the Darnes farm which Martin helped to destroy.
A photograph of the knocked-out Panther at the Darnes farm which Martin helped to destroy.

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Photos from the Darnes farm today, the scene of the battle in 1944. The tower standing shows damage
Photos from the Darnes farm today, the scene of the battle in 1944. The tower standing shows damage

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A photograph of the knocked-out Panther at the Darnes farm which Martin helped to destroy.
A photograph of the knocked-out Panther at the Darnes farm which Martin helped to destroy.

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      Now quite the figure in the company, Martin was promoted to command his own machine gun squad as first gunner and led a platoon for the continuous drive into France. In late September the regiment was given the task of taking the German fortifications at Hill 827, a hill mass near Tendon. For three long days and nights, all three battalions were heavily involved in the attacks on the hill where German tanks, artillery, and infantry had been well fortified. It was on one of these assaults that Martin earned his second Silver Star.

       The battles around Hill 827 were full of strategic planning and counter-maneuvers. During one of these troop movements, following a heavy battle over a critical highway that cut them off from their supply lines, the 1st Battalion was tasked with crossing a highway in preparation for an advance on Hill 827 itself. German troops dotted the woods hiding in trees and bushes, even booby-trapping their own dead with explosives. Once near the objective, however, the primary problem came in that the highway was vulnerable to ambush while the T-Patchers attempted to cross it. To account for this the company commander sent Martin’s MG team ahead of the unit to cover the advance. Things went smoothly for the first two crossing companies, however, as the third began its movement German soldiers and machine guns lying in wait opened fire and began tearing the company apart. Martin immediately began returning fire but the company was already thoroughly disorganized and on the retreat. Taking advantage, the Germans began to advance in hopes of cutting the entire battalion in two, meaning certain destruction of the entire force. Martin, however, was not about to let this happen. Despite calls to draw back and reposition himself, Martin stayed firm on his defilade and continued pouring fire into the onrushing German forces up until they began climbing the embankment to get him. Now firing at point-blank range, Martin continued suppressing the enemy forces even when a German hand grenade went off beside him, blowing his helmet off and peppering his leg with shrapnel, and his foot was torn apart by the rip of a German machine gun. Martin stayed in his position and delayed the attackers until the battalion had reorganized and advanced to clear the road of hostile forces. For his crucial actions in saving the entire battalion from certain defeat, Martin was once again awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.

 

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Hill 827
Hill 827

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October 1944
October 1944

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Martin spent over a month in the hospital recovering from the wounds he received at Hill 827 but returned to the company as a new platoon leader with all the perks and prestige. He fought valiantly with the company through the Vosges mountains and into the deep snow of Colmar as winter set in. In early January, attempting to divert American forces from the Bulge, the German army launched a counteroffensive across the 7th Army front. The 36th was called into action and moved to secure the line along the Franco-German border. Ordered to act immediately, Martin’s battalion was sent on a 40-mile motor march under blackout conditions. Sharply cold with snow falling all around them, the men of the 1st Battalion, 142nd moved onwards until they set up a decent line near Lemberg. As both sides were unaware of the other’s positions, patrols were sent out by each to feel out the strength of the opposition. On one of these patrols, Martin and his MG team came under attack by a German patrol. The attack was brief, but a well-placed hand grenade left Martin’s right leg shredded into pieces. Too far from the American lines, Martin’s men were forced to retreat without him, leaving him stuck beside his machine gun bleeding heavily. He lay there for over 77 hours before another German patrol came across his position. Taking him into their custody, the German soldiers brought him behind their lines and sent him to a field hospital where his leg was necessarily amputated. Martin was stuck moving from German hospital to hospital before finally being found by the 36th almost two months later in March.

      Martin sent a letter home warning of his injury but made sure that his bowling buddies knew he was still out to get them. While this leg injury meant the end of his army career, getting sent home many months later in late 1945, he by no means let it get the best of him. Martin returned home a decorated hero and continued playing baseball with other war amputees while upholding his bowling record from a wheelchair. For ten years, however, he dealt with the pains and treatments for his injuries at a VA hospital in Cincinnati. In a newspaper article written on Martin in 1955, a reporter described him as “with nothing but a smile on his face. Upon his tongue, there is never anything other than a quip, perhaps slightly ribald, perhaps clean as a whistle. In him there is only a vast consumption of life as life is lived.” Martin never complained about his disabilities, instead, becoming the life of the ward hall always seeking to cheer up his fellow hospitalized veterans with crazy antics and stunts in his wheelchair.

Martin, as bold as ever.
Martin, as bold as ever.

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Martin, as bold as ever.
Martin, as bold as ever.

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In 1949 Martin was invited to a special ceremony on Army day where he was presented a special decoration set of medals from US Army general Walter Krueger at Xavier College in Cincinnati. Hailed as a local hero, Martin remained humble about his service. He continued his work managing the bowling alley, marrying later in life with a few kids, but was left alone after a divorce and passed away on his own in 1981.