23 May 2011

My Memories of Martin

My brother’s name was actually Walter Martin Elliott, named after our father, Walter Matthew. He was the first child of six born to Walter and Victoria Elliott. Martin was born on March 31, 1926 in the Elliott’s Crossroads community in Dekalb County, Alabama. He, along with two siblings, moved with my parents to Trion, Georgia, where they found work in the textile mills in early 1933. Later in 1941 the family made their home in Summerville, Georgia, where Martin grew into his teenage years. He was well known and liked by those who knew him. He worked for Hinton Logan, a Christian brother, in a local grocery store in downtown Summerville. I remember him having an automobile with a ‘rumble seat’ in the back of the car. Martin was over six feet tall and very handsome.
 He fell in love with a beautiful young lady from Fort Payne, Alabama, Catherine King. They eloped when he was eighteen years old and were married in the small community of Rising Fawn near Trenton, Georgia. Martin was soon drafted into the military and began serving in the U.S. Army in 1944. It was during the time when men were greatly needed in the war with Germany and Japan. The young men did not receive extensive training for combat duty. I remember that he took his basic training at Fort Blanding near Jacksonville, Florida for about three months and was soon shipped off to Europe.

Martin was a Private First Class and served in the 178 INFANTRY 95 DIVISION and was with a machine gun squadron. It was during the winter of 1944-45 that the American military forces were making advances into the northwestern part of Germany. During an intense battle near the town of Hamn, Germany, Martin was wounded and died soon afterward. He was at the age when young men and women were enrolling in colleges and/or going into the work force but our country needed our youth in combat to fight against the forces of the Nazi Regime. Martin celebrated his 19th birthday anniversary on March 31, 1945 and was killed six days later on April 5, approximately two months before Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces.

My father was at work at the cotton mill which was located in the southern part of the town of Summerville when he received the telegram that contained the dreaded news that his oldest son had been killed in action. He then walked the long distance to the house where we lived on West Washington Street to bring that news to us. That part of the road was unpaved and our rental house was located on the top of a ridge. I was standing on the front porch when I saw him coming up the hill and he shouted out the words I have never forgotten, “Martin has been killed.” I was almost 10 years old at the time and I remember well the over-whelming sorrow and grief my family experienced upon learning that terrible news, especially my parents. We had not received any ‘air mail’ letters from Martin for sometime and my parents were greatly concerned about his safety. Following the news of his death we received packages back that my mother had sent to him, some containing food items and I well remember that mother would not permit my younger brother and me to eat the sweets.

Martin’s wife had the choice of having his body brought back to the states for burial or to be buried in a military cemetery in Europe and she chose the latter and this decision nearly killed my parents, especially mother who suffered emotionally for several years as they never had any ‘closure’ relating to the death of their precious first born child. I remember how I believed that he had not been killed but perhaps captured or wounded and that one day he would come home.

Martin was buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery in the village of Margraten, 6 miles east of Maastricht. Though I have never seen his grave site, I have a niece who visited his grave; and a friend who attended worship at the Prattville church several years ago who was a native of Holland and while visiting relatives in Rotterdam she made a special trip to the cemetery where Martin is buried. She brought me the flag that was on his grave and here is a picture that she gave me.
I found a letter that was written to my parents from a fellow soldier and friend of my brother Martin but over time the name of that individual had been torn from the bottom of the page and so the writer’s identity remains unknown.
Following the death of our mother in 1988, the Purple Heart awarded to Martin was left in my possession. It is a constant reminder of the supreme sacrifices that were made during WWII, thousands of whom were mere teenagers. Though he has been dead since 1945, I have endeavored to keep the memory of my dear brother Martin and the sacrifice he made as a youth to help keep the world free from the oppression of the Nazi Regime in the hearts of our children.