Away in the Army


Ancestor of the Week: Owen Lee Martin
Prompt of the Week: 52 Ancestors – So Far Away

I was a teenager and then a college student as the Vietnam War ramped up and started taking away the young men in our community. My older brother was the prime age for the draft. Attending college to study engineering should have exempted him but somehow that didn’t work out.

After several times of getting “accidentally” dropped off the exempt list and having to appeal that error to the draft board, he gave up and enlisted. We laughed at the photos he sent us from Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. That army haircut was terrible.

Getting through basic training was tough and at one point he ended up in the hospital there. He’d gotten an infected blister from those awful long marches in stiff boots. A number of times, the family drove from Kansas over to Missouri to bring Owen home for weekend leave. It didn’t give him much time to relax and see his friends, but he made the most of being away from the Army. Returning to Missouri (which he pronounced “misery), must have been so hard for him.


Owen Martin – U.S. Army (Vietnam War era)

The family worried, the same as families all across the country did, that their loved one would end up in the jungle warfare of Vietnam. Two of our cousins who were in the Kansas National Guard were sent there. Other people we knew ended up dying in Vietnam and one returned blind from a booby trap in a tunnel.

With a sigh of relief, the family heard the news that Owen was assigned to Germany. So far away, but sounding so safe compared to Vietnam. Long months would go by and many letters were sent. The family bought a small reel-to-reel tape recorder to send messages to Owen. A duplicate recorder was sent to him so he could listen to the tapes of the family news, then tape over them and return the tape with his own messages. Too bad that it didn’t occur to us or were too thrifty to get additional tapes and save the messages.

The letter below was to his little sister back in Kansas.

owen letter to shannon from germany

Owen was assigned mail duty which sure beat toting a gun or repairing engines on army trucks or peeling endless potatoes in the mess. Since he was assigned regular hours, he was able to take a job in the evening to make a little extra money. He ran the projector in a movie theater.

Homesickness and loneliness plagued the young soldiers. Luckily, Owen struck up a friendship with some great guys. One was married and lived in an apartment off the base. That gave Owen time away from the military and held the loneliness at bay.

Owen gave the little dachshund to his friends in appreciation. Years later, he got in touch with this buddy who now lives in Florida. Our sister, Susan, was able to track him down on Facebook. He sent these photos to Owen a few years ago.

So, here’s one last photo of my brother in Germany, so far away. He was able to take one short trip to the Netherlands while he was stationed in Europe. I don’t remember seeing any photos from that excursion though.

Owen Martin with a friend in Germany_edited-1

I don’t know the story behind this picture. Looks like they were on leave and sightseeing someplace–Black Forest?

Eventually, his enlistment was over and he was able to return to college.

Amy Johnson Crow challenges genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” This is week 5 of the 2020 challenge.


One thought on “Away in the Army

  1. My parents did the reel-to-reel tapes when he did he second tour in Vietnam. Not only would it be cool to have those, but my little brother and I used the tapes and created our own radio shows: MCing, writing songs, and creating advertisements. Those would be a hoot to hear today!

    How lucky for Owen to go to Germany instead.


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