2018 Grand Marshall

From a Basketball Championship at Bridgewater to the Silver Star in Vietnam

Andy Martin

Basketball star

Andy in the 1965

Championship Game

Andy Martin’s senior year at Bridgewater-Raritan High School in 1965 had been glorious. He was one of the stars of the basketball team that won the state championship before a crowd of 10,000 at Atlantic City’s Convention Hall. As a basketball player, Andy was a rebel. He was vocal, aggressive, and somewhat un-coachable. But he was the guy everyone wanted on their team as he knew how to win and always stood up for his teammates.

After Graduation Andy set his sights on playing college basketball and enrolled at Seton Hall. Unfortunately, his aggressive style that worked well with his high school players and coach did not fit with the Seton Hall team. Dissatisfied with the Seton Hall program, he stayed for his freshman year and transferred to Temple. Again, his aggressive style did not fit in with the Temple program and he eventually dropped out of college.

Andy realized that college was not for him. He debated what to do with his life. At that time (1968), the nightly television newscasts on Vietnam had sparked his curiosity and he decided to enlist. He went to Somerville to talk with an Army recruiter. The woman whom he met thought she recognized his name as the basketball star that played on Bridgewater’s championship basketball team and asked if it was him, to which he confirmed that it was. Her advice was that he go home and think it over – she recommended that he take a month to do this. Obviously, she felt that Vietnam was not a good choice for Andy. But he was determined to join and enlisted in the Army. This came as a shock to those that knew him. His good friend and ex-teammate Mike Grosso said “When Andy signed up for Vietnam no one could believe it.”

Off to Vietnam

After eight weeks of basic training and twelve weeks in radio school he arrived in Vietnam in September of 1968 for a twelve month tour of duty. He was immediately put into action to replace a radioman that had been killed. Andy established himself as a competent soldier – and also as a guy really looked out for his fellow soldiers. In Vietnam Andy noticed that there were two classes of soldiers. There were the guys like him who were serving a one year tour of duty in Vietnam. Then there were the career army guys known as “the lifers” who felt they were superior. The one year guys often become friends with each other, managed to have many good times, and neglected standard army protocol (such as saluting) whenever they could. The two groups had ongoing tension between them. To add to that tension, Andy was not the type to pacify these “career army men”.

In October of 1968, Andy’s first venture into the jungle was to go search for a patrol of a dozen men that had not reported back. He along with several other soldiers traversed the usual paths and established dugout areas where the missing patrol could have gone. They did indeed find the missing men; however, they were all dead. The scene showed that the unit had been caught by surprise as their helmets were all lined up – the way a group would store them when they felt safe. Judging from the evidence and estimating the time of death, Andy’s unit reasoned that their fallen comrades were caught unaware as they were probably listening to the World Series on the radio at the time that they were ambushed. Listening to America’s national pastime on the radio (even on a patrol) was a favorite hobby for these soldiers who were so far away from home. That year the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Detroit Tigers.

The Belle Mead Army Depot had an
incredible amount of supplies

Bonds of Friendship for Life

Bonds of Friendship for Life

On May 12th 1969, the North Vietnamese had taken over a compound in the village of Tu Tua. A few U.S. advisors were being held in that compound. Intelligence said this was done by a special Vietcong unit who were a lightly armored “hit and run” outfit. Andy’s unit, which contained several hundred men, was sent to re-take the compound. They arrived in the village and initially headed toward the compound confidently as they moved down the main street with many heavy vehicles – tanks and armored tracks. In the march down the main street Andy rode on top of an armored vehicle. Here Andy fired many shots from a gun that was mounted on the vehicle. Some of these shots found their target.

As they advanced they discovered that the enemy had much more fire power than had been reported. They realized that they were fighting the well-organized, heavily armored, regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA), not the terror “quick hit” special Vietcong forces. Some U.S. soldiers were killed and others were injured.

Due to the intense enemy firepower, the U.S. forces had to quickly withdraw. They did not have time to go back the way they came so they ran out of the village across an open field to take up a position 200 yards away from the village. However, when they did this, a dozen soldiers - many of them wounded - were left behind. The dozen soldiers managed to take cover in a canal, the only available option they had in the open terrain. Soon intense enemy fire had them pinned down unable to move. To make matters worse, they had limited ammo to defend themselves from the heavily armed NVA. The battle became a standoff.

Hours went by and no immediate plan was found to rescue the pinned down troops. The bulk of the U.S. troops - along with Andy - were still a couple hundred yards away across that open field. As the hot sweltering day went by a problem nearly as big as the enemy fire began to compound the issue. It was 100 degrees, very humid, and the pinned down soldiers had no water. The odds of survival for these dozen men - all suffering from extreme thirst, some injured, and running out of ammunition - were getting lower. They could perhaps try to run to safety if the opportunity was there. However, the terrain was not in their favor.

The large open field separated the trapped men from the other U.S. troops. Andy Martin and many others spent a great deal of time observing their buddies who were holding on in the canal across the field. They wondered what could be done. No officer gave an order to storm across the field as that would be suicidal.

One friend of Andy’s, Ed Stoney, came to him and said we need to do something. I need “you” to go with me. You are the only guy who will do it. We need to reach the stranded guys, at least bring them water so that they have a fighting chance. Andy knew the odds were not good for him to survive this rescue attempt, but he decided to go. He thought “this could be it” - he could be killed here. Andy reminded himself that this is what he came to Vietnam for. Years ago when there was a scuffle in a basketball game he was the first guy to get into the fight to stand up for his buddies. The stakes were obviously higher here in Vietnam, but he felt this was no different. There was one other complication; Andy had been hit by grenade fragments earlier on the initial run through the village and was bleeding from his hand. He decided that would not stop him.

Andy and Ed quickly planned their dangerous trek across the open field. Ed would carry water and Andy would bring smoke grenades to obstruct the view of the NVA machine gunners. They ran zigzagging across the open field under heavy enemy fire and arrived at the canal. They found one soldier was dead and several had injuries. For the wounded soldiers, while they had injuries, if it meant saving their lives they could still manage to run. With water to rejuvenate them, the men could now plan to evacuate from this death trap that had been their home for several hours.

The firing positions of the enemy were identified. Andy and Ed would stay in the canal and provide suppressing fire as the others ran to safety. As the once trapped soldiers ran across the open field, the enemy fire intensified, but the men all made it to safety. This still left Andy and Ed in the canal. Air strikes were called in to allow them to run for safety and keep the NVA pinned down for their escape. Luckily, both men made it back safely under intense NVA machine gun fire. The commanding officer later said that he did not know how they made it back against the intense enemy machine gun fire.

For his actions that day Andy Martin would be awarded The Silver Star. That is the third highest honor that can be bestowed for bravery. While Andy and his men survived this battle, the U.S. advisors (that were being held in the compound) who they were initially trying to reach were not so fortunate.

Comes to terms with his past as Vietnam Vet

Upon his discharge, Andy would attend college at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. There he completed his degree and then became a gym teacher at Snyder High School in Jersey City. Today he is retired. Even 40 years after Vietnam, the war still affects him as is the case with many Nam vets still haunted by that tragic war.

Andy says he plays the part of the tough guy that can handle it, but many things still haunt him from the war. While he still has occasional nightmares, Andy has come a long way in dealing with the trauma he experienced. When he first came home in 1969, he admits that he was somewhat messed up. For the first 12 years after the war Andy did not talk about Vietnam and seldom told anyone he newly met that he had served.

In 1982, when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was completed, Andy’s dad, a Navy veteran of World War II, said that they should go to the dedication ceremony. Andy was reluctant at first, but agreed. His father and him traveled to Washington and stayed at a local hotel. The night before the ceremony, his dad opened a special case that he had brought with him. In the case was a bottle of Jack Daniels and two shot glasses. His dad said they should do a shot together – a toast from one veteran to another. It was a special moment between father and son. At the ceremony the next day, Andy wore his official army uniform. The event moved him as he remembered the battles he fought and the friends that he had lost. From that day on, he was a proud Vietnam veteran. He would visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Wall often after that, remembering and healing himself in the process.

Any old friends who would like to contact Andy can do so by emailing him at his correct email address (the newspaper had it wrong) asmartinjr@comcast.net

Other Photos from Andy Martin's Vietnam Scrapbook

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