Disappointed he couldn’t get back in after leave

When Bill Martin went into the Army, he knew he wanted to be a medic.

“I always liked to take care of people and look after people,” he said. “I felt that I could help.”

As a teenager, Martin had been involved with Russell Volunteer Fire Department.

“I was 18, 19,” he said. To be a member “you had to be 21.”

Still, “things that I could help them with, I did,” he said.

He became a card-carrying member shortly before he was drafted.

The United States Army was not as concerned with what Martin wanted.

“I was assigned to go to St. Petersburg (Florida),” Martin said. “I was sent to airplane mechanics school.”

“That’s the worst thing I could ever do,” he said.

He talked to his lieutenant, explaining that mechanics school was not for him.

Orders were given and Martin was told to “try it.”

“I went for five nights,” he said. And that’s all he could take. “I went AWOL (absent without leave) for one night.”

He didn’t leave the base, he cut a class.

Martin was punished… “a lot of KP (kitchen patrol) and guard duty.”

He got through it and was ready for a break.

“I’d been in about six months and I hadn’t had a day off or anything,” he said.

So, he spent a Sunday afternoon in the commander’s office.

The commander walked through. “What are you doing today?”

“Well, it looks like I’m going to sit here and read the Sunday paper,” Martin said.

The commander figured that wasn’t all.

“What would you like to do?” he asked.

“Well, I’ve been here six months and I would like to have a day off,” Martin told him. “I wanted to get out was all.”

He was given leave for the following weekend. He left the base and spent Saturday with a family he had met.

Martin was back on the base, and in the commander’s office, on Sunday.

The commanding officer was surprised to see him.

“I thought you wanted to go,” he said to Martin.

Again, there was more.

“I said, sir, is there any chance I can get transferred into something?” Martin said.

“He said, ‘What would you like?'”

“I’ve had a little bit of Red Cross training and I would really like to get into medics,” Martin told him. “Boy, he said the hospital needs people right and left. He went to the phone and called.”

“You be over there tomorrow morning at eight o’clock,” the commander told him. “They’ll put you to work.”

“That’s just fine,” Martin said.

He starting working in the base hospital.

“You learn real quick,” he said. “We had an airplane blow up about 500 feet in the air not far from the base.”

There was no time for the crew to bail out.

“We got five guys that were all passed away when they came to the hospital,” Martin said. “Three of them had the rip cords in their hand and had pulled it, but they just hadn’t opened up. The other two didn’t even have their hands on the cords.”

“That was the first bad thing that I really seen,” he said.

Part of his training was to sit in on the autopsy of one of those crewmen.

Most of the time, his duties were simpler. “We made beds, changed beds, got things for patients, made sure they got their baths, just like a hospital,” he said. “We gave medicines.”

“I worked nights 90 percent of the time,” he said.

Among about 40,000 troops based at Keesler were the Tuskegee Airmen and several thousand other African Americans.

The color of a man’s skin determined what part of the hospital he went to, but was not a concern for Martin.

“I worked on the colored ward quite a bit,” he said. “I was OK with it. As long as they were in the hospital I was supposed to take care of them. That was fine with me.”

“Some of the guys wanted to know come I could get along with them,” he said. “I said, ‘Goodness, I got a job to do and they’re here.’ It went very good.”

After he was discharged for six months for family hardship, Martin returned to the draft board. He wanted to go back.

“I’m here, I’m ready to go,” he said. “The girl in the office said, ‘We aren’t supposed to take anybody in or back.”

The war was winding down and so was the draft.

Martin was disappointed and wanted to make sure he was considered if anything changed.

“Just so you got me on record if anything turns up,” he told her.

He expects his career paths would have been very different had he gotten back in.

“I would have loved to have went back in and been a medic,” he said. “I believe you could have went right on and been a nurse.”

It was the second time he missed a chance to become a nurse.

“I had the chance to go right out of high school,” he said. “My aunt and uncle were out in California and wanted me to go.”

“I guess I was too young and loved baseball,” Martin said. “I stayed and played baseball.”

He ended up delivering bottled gas and eventually entered county politics. He was elected Warren County Commissioner in 1980.

Through it all, he was part of Russell Volunteer Fire Department.

“When I came back in 1944 I went right in,” Martin said.

He particularly enjoyed working as part of ambulance crews and was a full member until he was about 75 years old. “I drove the ambulance quite a few times and went with the guys who got their first,” he said.

Back in the 40s, there was a call to a fire in Lander.

“They always put me in the two-speed truck,” Martin said. “Nobody would drive it.”

The truck didn’t have a cab, just a windshield to protect the driver from the elements.

“By the time I got up there is was 20-below zero that morning,” Martin said. “I couldn’t move. I couldn’t move my hands. I don’t know how I drove.”

“They let me put my hands in the snow and on the exhaust to get thawed out,” he said.

He was still an active member into his 70s when he realized it was time to let younger backs bear the loads.

“I really enjoy it,” he said.