Tragedy at home kept his WWII service short

Bill Martin did not witness the horrors of war in Europe or the Pacific.

His horrors came in the form of family tragedy while serving in the United States.

When Martin was drafted in 1942, he had been seeing Mabel Rhodes of Warren’s west side for more than a year. “I met her roller skating,” Martin said.

After spending time skating together for about a year the couple started dating. They had gotten engaged not long before the August draft notice arrived.

They were planning to be married soon, but the draft pushed the schedule. If he and Mabel were to be married before he shipped out, it would have to happen within weeks. “Her parents thought it was all right,” Bill said. “So did my parents. So did we.”

They were married in August of 1942 and Bill left to serve his country in early September.

Like almost half a million other Pennsylvania draftees, Martin reported to New Cumberland Army Depot in York County for processing.

When Bill was assigned to Keesler Field – an Army Air Corps base in Biloxi, Miss. – Mabel joined him.

Their family grew with the addition of William Jr.

Bill had been in the service less than 18 months. His young family was together. He was helping people. All was well.

Then, one February day in 1944, Mabel was nursing the baby. She passed out. She fell on baby William.

He suffocated.

She woke up in an ambulance.

Despite the efforts of a team of 15 doctors in New Orleans, including one of the few brain surgeons still in the United States at the time, Mabel died about two weeks later of an abscess on her brain.

A day after she was in surgery for about seven hours, Bill was talking to the doctor and Mabel was talking to her mother. They heard noises in the hall.

“Here they were bringing all the machinery down to hook her up,” he said. “I said to her, ‘Mabel, how about you taking a little nap, then that maybe make you feel better.'”

She looked at him and made a sound. “That was it,” he said. “She died right there.”

Martin received a six-month family hardship discharge.

The brain surgeon was moved by Martin’s situation and offered to help.

“He said, ‘I’m very sorry,'” Martin said. “He reached into his hip pocket, brought his pocket book out, laid $2,000 down on the table and said, ‘Here, take this.'”

“I didn’t take any money from him,” he said. “I felt much better about it.”

But someone helped him out.

“Everything was taken care of,” he said. “I just wonder who paid the train fare and for the body to get home.”

“I don’t know if the army paid it, or this doctor, or who did,” he said.

During his months at the hospital, Martin had run into a doctor he recognized from Warren County.

Dr. Aaron Daugharthy, a lieutenant at that time, who had lived on the Daugharthy Farm on Big Four Road, played a role in the treatment of Martin’s wife. Martin did not find out about that role for 70 years when Daugharthy was nearly 100 years old.

“His first duty as a doctor at Keesler Field was to go on an ambulance call to pick up my son and wife,” Martin said. “He told me about this in 2011.”

Since those tragic days and his time as an Army medic, Martin’s family has grown and thrived.

Martin and his second wife, Donna Mangini, also of Warren, had five children, Kevin, Kurt, James, Darlene, and Sue. James passed away in 2000 and Bill buried Donna on her 51st birthday.

He was married to his third wife, Carol Swanson of Russell, for 28 years.

He is going on 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“It’s a very good family,” he said. “They treat me absolutely wonderful.”