Vet recalls Vietnam, service as a ‘Walrus’
McDONALD — Four years, three months and 18 days.
That is how long David Martin, 75, spent in the U.S. Navy during the middle years of the Vietnam War. Although he never saw combat, he had a close call while his tender ship, the USS Salisbury Sound AV-13, was in port in Cam Ranh Bay in south central Vietnam.
“My friend, Joe Coleman, who was a gunner’s mate, told me to pack my bags because the next day we were going out to sea to fix 40-millimeter guns on the boats stationed there,” Martin said. “I went to bed thinking, ‘This is going to be interesting.’ I woke up to the sound of swift boats and Joe said ‘good news, Dave. The boats came to us.’ I couldn’t get my rifle back into its case fast enough because I was so relieved.”
Martin graduated from Niles McKinley High School and started working at S.S. Kresge Co. in the Pineview Plaza in McKinley Heights.
He started out as a stock boy and later took over the candy and book departments, along with other duties. He told his boss he wanted to attend the company’s manager training program, but employees had to be 21 to do so.
“They wouldn’t let me do it, so I quit,” Martin said. “Later that night at dinner, I told my dad I quit my job and was going to join the Navy.”
Martin was 19 when he started basic training in January 1962 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. He was his naval company’s yeoman, meaning he kept all the records, similar to a secretary. While at boot camp, every sailor was required to see the chaplain and Martin was in charge of scheduling them. He said his fellow sailors would grumble to him about having to go.
“I would ask them ‘would you rather go with me to drills?’ … They ended up liking going to see the chaplain and wanted to go back,” Martin said.
After basic training, Martin went to school for one year to learn how to be a gunfire control technician and operate the gun control radars.
“I wanted to be a telephone man, but I scored too high on the electronics test,” he said.
He then went to Mark 5 target designation system classes when transistors were just becoming popular. In between his Navy schooling, he typed up the transistor instruction manual for the next year’s class. It was 103 pages and he made 90 copies. For his effort, he received a Navy commendation.
His first assignment was on the aircraft carrier Kersarge, but his placement on that ship was canceled because it contained no Mark 5 target destination system. Next, he was assigned to “the Sally,” as the Salisbury became known. Its homeport was in Oakland, Calif., but it performed regular operations at Whidbey Island, Washington.
In 1965, he and his 500-sailor crew spent 30 days in Kodiak, Alaska, cleaning up after a large earthquake. It was during that time Martin was designated a lifetime member of the Order of the Alaska Walrus by the governor of Alaska.
“It is quite an honor to be a Walrus,” he said.
Martin spent two seven-month stints in Okinawa, Japan, which was the Sally’s homeport overesas. He spent another four months there before being discharged.
According to his military records, he spent nine months cruising up and down the coast of Vietnam, but he didn’t know it at the time.
“Planes would come in along makeshift runways made out of a series of buoys. We would service them and then they would take off again,” Martin said.
Another close call came shortly before he was discharged. He said he was walking along Cam Ranh Bay to visit his brother-in-law, who was in the Army and worked on an attack helicopter.
“I didn’t know I was in enemy territory and an Army officer offered me a ride. I told him ‘I am fine. I am enjoying the walk.’ He said ‘get in sailor, before you get shot’,” Martin said.
After he was discharged, he started working at the General Electric Lamp Plant in Warren. He met his wife, Mae, while he was still working at Kresge’s in 1962.
He bought her an engagement ring in April 1964 after his first overseas deployment.
They celebrated their 53rd anniversary in May.
“For young people today with no direction and no plans for college, the Navy is the place to go. It’s good people, and you get a good education,” Martin said, noting he is still friends with men he met on the ship.