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Long-time former serviceman explains why he isn’t a hero

Newton native Fred Martin served in three branches of the military, but doesn't want to be called a hero.
Newton native Fred Martin served in three branches of the military, but doesn't want to be called a hero.

Despite serving his country for more than two decades — with stints in the Army, Air Force and Iowa National Guard — Newton native Fred Martin insists he’s not a hero. He also said he couldn’t choose a favorite branch and explained why he switched branches.

“I like to move around. I like to let everybody get ahold of my talents,” Martin said jokingly. “They were all good, and I enjoyed every minute of it, but you reach a point where you can’t do it anymore, and the job becomes too taxing. So I went ahead and retired.”

Some of the medals Martin, who is adamant about not being called a hero, has earned include the Vietnam Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Medal with the 1960 Bar, and a Bronze Star. He also has a few tales of some the “non-heroic” deeds he’s accomplished.

“We pulled a pilot out of the water just north of Okinawa. He was an (F-)86 pilot,” Martin said. “There were four that went down. We picked up two, and the other helicopter picked up two.”

Martin has a number of similar tales to share, which is quite the accomplishment for the man who joined the service looking for another job.

“Seventeen (years old), five weeks out of high school, and I was working on a farm — me and a friend of mine — bailing hay,” Martin said. “I said, ‘Enough of this hay bailing. I need out of this. I’m going to join something.’ When you’re on a farm, you are not the CEO.”

Martin said, right after they finished working that day, he told his friend to take him to the courthouse.

“It was just about five minutes until 5 p.m., and the Navy was the first door, and he had gone home,” Martin said. “So I went down to the next door, and that was the Army, and he had gone home. I was on my way to the third door, because it was my last hope, and the guy came out of the office, and he was with the Air Force.”

“I said, ‘I want to join you.’ And he said, ‘When?’ And I said, ‘Well, what’s wrong with right now?’” Martin said. “I wasn’t doing nothing, and I wasn’t going to be doing anything for the next 20 years. Then I had to go say goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa, and then I went two weeks later.”

In his youth, Martin said he worked with his father picking flowers and kept very strange working hours. However, he said this experience actually helped prepare him for boot camp in a very unexpected way.

“Every morning, we would be up at three in the morning when the flowers bloomed,” Martin said. “So he had to be at work at Maytag at 7 a.m., and so we got up and cut a load of flowers. I would deliver them to the flower shops in Des Moines, and then I could come back and do my day’s work until about nine or 10 at night. Then get up, do the same thing again at three the next morning. I had done this the whole summer for as long as I could do it.

“So I went to basic training, and this guy, he was a little-bitty joker, he would get right in your face,” Martin continued. “He would have to stand on a brick to kick a duck in the (butt). He said, ‘I’m going to have you guys in bed by 10 o’clock at night, lights go out. And I’m going to have you up at six every morning, and don’t you be late.’”

Martin said once he heard that from the instructor, he actually felt relieved and laughed.

“He got right in my face and said, ‘What do you think is so funny?’” Martin said. “I said, ‘I’m going to get about three more hours sleep than I’ve been getting at home. You’re treating me nice.’ I thought he was friendly. It (boot camp) wasn’t bad. You get used to it. It’s like anything else.”

Although Martin experienced multiple branches of the service, he did finally admit he had a favorite one.

“The Air Force,” Martin said. “The reason was because I was my own boss. The most people I ever worked with was five.”

Although Martin still insists he isn’t a hero and that he didn’t join because of “apple pie and all that,” he still served his country with pride. He also said he really enjoyed his time as a Southeast Pacific survival school instructor.

“I enjoyed every second of it. Well, I didn’t like people shooting at me,” Martin said. “I never cared much for that. I taught a lot of people, I hope, how to stay alive. We all did. That was our job.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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