Editor’s note: The following is part of a series of weekly feature stories on West Siders who served in the armed forces. Gustine resident Richard Martin, a United States Marine Corps veteran, is featured. The series will continue through Veterans Day.
GUSTINE - A United States flag flies over the front yard of Richard Martin’s Meredith Avenue home, reflecting a deep-seated patriotism and love of country.
Beneath the U.S. flag fly the Marine Corps colors, symbolizing Martin’s chosen branch of the armed forces.....one, he says, which transformed his life as a young man.
Martin grew up with an appreciation for patriotic holidays such as the Fourth of July and Veterans Day, he reflected, and as a senior at Gustine High he became interested in the military.
Martin recalled not wanting to continue in school, and rather than just looking for a job began exploring military options.
“I have always been patriotic,” he explained. “Something inside me told me that I was the type of person who wanted to serve.”
A presentation by a Marine Corps recruiter piqued his interest, and he enlisted in early 1994, several months before his graduation.
Martin reported for boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego a month after his high school graduation.
He was well-suited for the physical aspect of boot camp, Martin recalled, but adapting to the mental intensity was a challenge.
“You are screamed at all day. That hardest part was learning how to not let that bother you,” he said.
Martin came to realize that the aggressive approach was meant to instill mental discipline, respect and an ability to take orders, all with the purpose of combat readiness.
“Everything in the Marine Corps, no matter what it was, had a purpose behind it,” he commented.
Martin, who was trained to operate an anti-tank missile system and also received elite-level marksmanship instruction. After training, he was stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii for nearly four years.
From that base, Martin’s unit repeatedly deployed to different areas throughout eastern Asia, including Japan, Okinawa, South Korea and Guam.
While training exercises were incorporated into each deployment, Martin related the Marines were primarily present as a peace-keeping force.
Before deploying, he noted, the Marines would undergo a combat-readiness evaluation.
“We were there so that in case anything blew up in that area, they had a Marine Corps battalion there,” Martin explained. “There was no combat when I was in, but we constantly deployed to different areas.”
He was in the Marine Corps for a total of eight years, including four and one-half on active duty and three and one-half on inactive duty - during which time he was always subject to being called back to duty.
Martin thought that was going to be the case in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.....to the point where he was packed and awaiting the call, but the summons never came.
A few months later he received his honorable discharge, and continued in civilian life with a focus on family, community and career.
Today, Martin works for the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, is a volunteer firefighter and has his own company which offers a variety of services, including CPR and first aid instruction and a concealed weapons permit course.
The Marine Corps, Martin reflected, helped shape the person he has become.
“It changed me completely. I believe the military taught me how to be a man. It taught me responsibility, discipline....it pretty much taught me everything,” he told Mattos Newspapers. “I thought I would never use anything (learned in the military) after I got out, but I find myself using it on a daily basis.”
Being a veteran, Martin expressed, “means everything. To this day, people come up and thank me for my service. I never did it for the praise. It was something I did because I wanted to to, to fight for my county and to serve.”
While he never experienced combat, he added, “if there was any time the flag went up and we (were told) we were going, we knew that we were going to go fight.”
His service only deepened his patriotic pride.
Martin’s proudly flies his flag, day and night.
“When the president says to lower it to half-mast, I lower it to half-mast,” he noted.
Hearing the national anthem has always meant a great deal, Martin added, but now more than ever.
“It is always one of the things that got to me. To this day, when the anthem is played, I am almost to the point of tearing up,” he shared. “I know now what the anthem is all about, what it represents and how many lives have been lost fighting for that flag.”