Martin soars to lifetime of memories
May 20, 2009
Hugh Martin always loved airplanes. He learned to fly in his late teens, and took his skills with him when he served in the military during World War II.
Martin, who was reared in Ramsey, graduated from New Salisbury High School and took an interest in flying. He flew several types of small planes and, when World War II broke out, volunteered for the Army Air Force in 1942. He was already married at the time and had one son.
He took his basic training at a base in Arkansas, then received further training in Kansas. He was in training with George McGovern, who would later become a U.S. congressman, senator and candidate for president. He also served with George Gobel, who became an actor and comedian after the war.
"Most pilots were volunteers," Martin said. "I had already flown a lot, but I kept that to myself, for the most part. I had a flight instructor who wasn't a very nice person, and I gave him some lip one time, so he sent me on an elimination ride, which was like a test of your flying skills. We went up, and I did a snap roll which caught him off guard. He asked me if there was anything else I wanted to show him, and I did a double snap-top loop. I never had an instructor after that."
After Martin graduated from flight school, he was assigned to fly C-47s, which were the same planes as the old DC-3s.
"Those were really good planes," Martin said. "They were first flown in 1929, and some of them are still flying today."
Martin's unit was sent to Europe and ordered to fly paratroopers into combat during the Holland invasion.
"One time, we were flying with other planes and one of them had a colonel aboard. I was a co-pilot and was in the right-hand seat on that flight. I saw a plane coming straight at us, grabbed the wheel, steered to one side. The plane missed us but hit the plane behind us that had the colonel aboard. All of them bailed out, but I heard later that some of them were killed by the Germans."
But Martin's unit kept flying. They flew missions every day and sometimes they were ordered into the air twice a day.
"The planes held 25 troops," Martin said. "And we also hauled prisoners of war. At the time, we were hoping Patton would have the war won by Christmas, but it didn't happen. We flew in supplies for the troops and all kinds of equipment, but we actually ended up resupplying the Germans. We had to leave it all behind when we pulled out. Everything was lost — cannons, jeeps, ammo, food — they got it all. And the Germans took thousands of prisoners in Holland."
But Gen. Patton, who had his tank units deployed in France, was able to finally get the tanks into Holland.
"There wasn't much in the way of supplies and gasoline along the way," Martin said.
"So, we flew overhead, tied five gas cans together on each parachute and dropped them so the tanks could refuel."
Martin was never shot down during the war but experienced some close calls.
"Our fuel tank was shot full of holes one time, but we were able to land," Martin said. "And one time I had a real close call. Pilots were required to sit on a parachute while we were in the air. We had flak (anti-aircraft fire) coming in and the parachute under me was hit and raised me up, but I wasn't hit. That will make a person a little nervous. I was never really scared. We had a job to do, and we did it."
Martin served four years and four months without a leave. He was discharged in 1946.
"We were going on a mission one time and one of the other pilots was a good friend of mine. He told me that, 'This is the day I'm going to die.' He gave all his stuff away before he took off. He died that day. Eight planes left that day and only three returned."
When Martin came home, he took a test to be a commercial pilot and got a license to fly multi-engine commercial planes, but he got into the chicken business and decided to stay home with his family.
"I still flew planes for my own enjoyment," Martin said. "After the war, planes were selling for almost nothing, and I bought a PT-13 for $200. I flew it for a long time and, when it got to the point of needing a lot of work, I sold it for $200. I also hauled skydivers from the Louisville Skydivers Club for a while."
Martin, now 91, owned several planes through the years but gave up flying a few years ago. He got out of the chicken business years ago and built houses for people throughout Harrison County.
Martin has seven children, 18 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, and still lives near New Salisbury.