Robert Martinez

Tulsa, Oklahoma

2019 Reunion Louisville, Kentucky

"Click the photo"

Vietnam vet remembers sergeant
GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer Oct 28, 2001

Robert Martinez, shown with the medals he was awarded for serving in Vietnam, says his commanding officer's Medal of Honor was an honor for his entire platoon.


The Tulsan attended the commissioning of a destroyer honoring his former commander.

Bob Martinez speaks with reverence, respect and admiration for "Gunney Howard."

The Vietnam War veteran doesn't bring up his own Purple Heart or Silver Star unless asked. He prefers to talk about his war buddies, devotion to his country or former commander, Jimmie Howard.

The 56-year-old Tulsa resident celebrated and remembered all of these as he watched the commissioning of the guided-missile destroyer, the USS Howard, Oct. 20 in Galveston, Texas.

"By commissioning this ship, they have received the tradition, honor and bravery of the past service people," Martinez said. "That torch has now been passed. As I watched, I thought that you have over 300 sailors wondering what we went through and wondering what they are going to go through.

"You haven't heard the end of that ship. It's pumped full of tradition."

Commissioning a ship is a symbolic ceremony to "bring the ship alive" and put it in active duty.

The ship is named after Howard, a former Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. who led 17 men in repelling repeated attacks by the Viet Cong while on an observation point known as Hill 488.

Martinez was a corporal in Howard's platoon and served as radio operator. Another Tulsan, Ray Hildreth, was also a member of the platoon.

The men made up a platoon in Company C, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Marine Division. They were ordered to occupy the hill and observe enemy activity.

But the enemy soon surrounded the hill and attacked in waves for two days in June 1966.

Howard strategically placed the men at various points and ordered the conservation of ammunition to fend off attacks.

At one point, the men threw rocks at the enemy. The Viet Cong assumed the rocks were grenades and ran, which then made them targets.

Of the platoon, six men were killed and all the others were injured. All received honors for their parts in the battle.

Balance = 20.0 pts Martinez received gunshot wounds in his lower back and legs, leaving him immobile by the end of the battle. He received a Purple Heart, a Silver Star and a promotion to sergeant. He retired from service in 1968.

"You don't plan bravery," said Martinez. "It just happens to you, and you hope to understand it after it happens to you. I consider myself a survivor. I consider myself lucky."

Through the years Martinez has collected items related to the battle, including a taped interview with Howard.

"The good Lord didn't put a better crew on this earth," Howard said.

The same tape includes the speech given by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 when presenting the Medal of Honor, the military's highest honor, to Howard.

Johnson said Howard's "skill and devotion is unsurpassed in history," and his "readiness to risk his life for his men and his mission" earned him the honor.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Howard also received three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for his service in Korea and Vietnam.

Martinez said he felt the awards given to Howard were honors given to the platoon.

"One-eighteenth of the Medal of Honor is for me," Martinez said. "We're part of the ship's history. Gunney Howard represents the platoon. By honoring him, it's honoring us. And as a platoon, we represent the United States. So it's an honor to our country."

Martinez, originally from Garden City, Kan., moved to Tulsa in the early 1970s with his wife, Sue, and children.

You don't have to wait until Nov. 11 to have Veterans Day," he said. "Every day of freedom we have is Veterans Day."