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Classic Wings Magazine WWII Naval Aviation Research Pacific Luftwaffe Resource Center
When Hollywood Ruled The Skies - Volumes 1 through 4 by Bruce Oriss

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 26, 2014 7:39 am 

Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2007 11:42 pm
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War hero James Harvey Jr., 99, cheated death three times during WWII

CLEARWATER — That day in 1942, pulling back the joystick on his fighter plane, Lt. James Martin must have thought he didn't have a chance.

An incoming squadron of Japanese Zero planes had just let loose. Lt. Martin's P-40 Kittyhawk, which had taken off from Canberra, Australia, began falling toward the southern Pacific Ocean.

On the way down, Lt. Martin tried to stay calm and focus only on his actions moment by moment. He emptied all six of his .50-caliber machine guns, three on each wing.

As the plane sank in 30 feet of water, Lt. Martin, now wearing an oxygen mask, tried to open the canopy over his head. It didn't budge.

Lt. Martin, later becoming Lt. Col. Martin, which was his rank upon retirement, died Dec. 18 at Suncoast Hospice. He was 99.

"I had the darn guns going full out to ease the crash," he told an Australian newspaper after his rescue. "When all those Kittyhawk guns are going, you lose between 20 and 30 miles an hour of speed — and that helps, baby, when you've got nothing but luck to land on."

Once the water pressure equalized, Lt. Col. Martin was able to open the canopy. He swam a mile to an uncharted atoll. For the next three days, he subsisted on insects and dew from the surface of leaves. At night, he wrapped himself in his parachute to fend off mosquitoes. A Canadian PT boat rescued him.

Just four months earlier, Lt. Col. Martin was also shot down and rescued. After the second incident, he flew C-47 transport planes until the end of the war.

In all, Lt. Col. Martin flew 215 combat missions with the Army Air Forces, his family said. For his service, he was awarded the Silver Star; the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters; and, later, a medal bestowed by South Korea for working a radar installation in the Korean war.

His homecoming to Clearwater after World War II created much fanfare. After some prodding by local officials, Lt. Col. Martin flew a plane over downtown as a crowd cheered below. His finishing flourish — buzzing a pier at the end of Cleveland Street — drew the wrath of some residents, who wrote irate letters to the police chief and also complained to the Army Air Forces, a precursor to today's Air Force.

"Several people wanted him arrested," said Harvey Martin III, 68, Lt. Col. Martin's son.

His superiors ordered Lt. Col. Martin to Stout Army Air Field in Indianapolis to answer questions about his alleged recklessness. He reported to the general's representative, Capt. Mary Arenson of the Women's Army Corps.

Nothing came of the "charges," but a marriage to Arenson did, in 1944. In 1948, the Air Force recalled him to active duty for the Berlin Airlift. For nearly a year, Western allies dropped 2 million tons of supplies onto West Berlin, overcoming a Soviet blockade.

Lt. Col. Martin took his wife and four children across the country through numerous assignments in his 26-year career. He imposed a certain military discipline on his children, insisting that he be able to bounce a quarter off their made-up beds. If not, he would rip off the sheets and have them start over.

"He ruled with an iron fist, and we were afraid of him," his son said.

James Harvey Martin Jr. was born in 1914 in Clearwater, the son of dry goods store owner Harvey Martin and the former Mamie Coachman, a member of a pioneer family. He graduated from Clearwater High in 1933, and attended Mars Hill College for two years before going into the military.

A career and family highlight entailed four years in the early 1960s, working for NATO in Paris. Lt. Col. Martin then served in the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, retiring from the military in 1967. He spent the next 16 years working in Dallas, retiring to Clearwater in 1983.

Age mellowed him, his son said. Lt. Col. Martin took care of his wife, who was in ill health, for 18 years, and made arrangements for yearly family gatherings, never sparing the cost.

He did not talk much about the war until his later years. From the emerging stories came a new one about a rescue. Around 1944, during a period at Stout Field, Lt. Col. Martin was about to board a B-28 bomber to pilot a routine, noncombat mission.

While walking across the tarmac, his son said, "A voice came in his right ear, and the voice said, 'Do not get on that plane.' "

Lt. Col. Martin decided to skip the flight, which caught fire after takeoff. All six people aboard died.

"Now he had cheated death a third time," his son said. "He was lucky that way."

Lt. Col. Martin died three days shy of his 100th birthday. He was buried beside his wife at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, in dress uniform and with military honors.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.


Lt. Col. James Harvey "Jim" Martin Jr.

Born: Dec. 21, 1914

Died: Dec. 18, 2014

Survivors: daughters Sandee Drake and Carole Martin; sons Harvey Martin III and Jon Martin; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/obituaries ... es/2211469

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