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Hero

Hero

dad

The following essay was written by Erin Velt.  Erin interviewed my father for a school project.  She learned more about my dad in her short interview than I have learned in 20+ years. Her essay is a very personal history lesson for me.  I have always respected my father as a dad, husband, friend and mentor.  I now have renewed respect for him as a Veteran.

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Martin Galvin’s Military Days

by Erin Velt

The United States had bombed the island for 72 days.  The ocean was rough when Marty’s ship arrived February 19, 1945. At first they didn’t know where they were going, but when they arrived they were told they were a reserve division behind the 4th and 5th Divisions who were going to attack first. They had already figured that they would win because the Marines had not yet lost a battle. Marty explained that the Marines were different from any other soldier by the fact that Marines rely on everyone, not just themselves; it was a group effort. Survival was always primary.

Before arriving on the island, they could see the flag had been raised on Mount Suribachi. This was supposed to signify that Mount Surabachi had been taken and that everything’s under control, but it was really just the beginning.  The beaches were difficult to walk on and even more impossible for machinery to move on because of the lava like wet sand. The soldiers had to make sure the sand did not get in their weapons for it would quickly clog them.

Marty wasn’t the stereotypical movie star soldier running in to save the day. He quietly wanted to serve his country and go home alive and unharmed. Soon after setting foot upon Iwo Jima, his group was being shot at by the Japanese. Going for cover, Marty allowed another soldier to jump into a foxhole close to him while he got into rut made by a tank. A sniper’s bullet killed the other marine.

 

The war had been going on for a few years and he was afraid it would be over before he got there. But, Robert Martin Galvin (a.k.a. Marty), not quite 18 years old, enlisted in the Marines one month before finishing high school in 1944.  Marty’s brothers were all in the war as were most of his friends, now he would be too.


World War II became a reality for Marty while sitting in a movie theater when a newscast came on the screen about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor.  Many people did not know where Pearl Harbor was located but soon learned. Rationing had become a way of life and solders’ families proudly displayed stars in their windows to show everyone that they had a son in the armed services.


Marty has an absolutely vivid recall from the time he first entered the Marines in 1944 through his service in the Army in the Korean War.  His Marine training began at Parris Island, South
Carolina. It was very intense.  His drill sergeant would taunt them by saying “if any of you think you can beat me, come on up here." Marty comically said that he had two prayers he would say each night; one was to live through the training and the other was hoping he didn’t.


After boot camp, Marty traveled by train to California. He recalled how he and a buddy waited until all the other marines got on the train and filled up all the onboard bunks. When there was no room left, Marty and his buddy got upgraded to officers’quarters. This patience served him well throughout his war experience.



On November 11, 1944, Marty boarded a boat bound for Hawaii. From Hawaii he was sent to Guam which is part of the Mariana Islands. 60 more days of training were given before the 3rd Marines Division was sent 1200 miles away to Iwo Jima.  This was an island occupied by the Japanese Iwo Jima is Japanese for Sulfur Island because of the large amounts of sulfur that made up this small island.

 


The United States had bombed the island for 72 days.  The ocean was rough when Marty’s
ship arrived February 19, 1945. At first they didn’t know where they were going, but when they arrived they were told they were a reserve division behind the 4th and 5th Divisions who were going to attack first. They had already figured that they would win because the Marines had not yet lost a battle. Marty explained that the Marines were different from any other soldier by the fact that Marines rely on everyone, not just themselves; it was a group effort. Survival was always primary.


Before arriving on the island, they could see the flag had been raised on Mount Suribachi. This was supposed to signify that Mount Surabachi had been taken and that everything’s under control, but it was really just the beginning.  The beaches were difficult to walk on and even more impossible for machinery to move on because of the lava like wet sand. The soldiers had to make sure the sand did not get in their weapons for it would quickly clog them.

Marty wasn’t the stereotypical movie star soldier running in to save the day.  He quietly wanted to serve his country and go home alive and unharmed. Soon after setting foot upon Iwo Jima, his group was being shot at by the Japanese. Going for cover, Marty allowed another soldier to jump into a foxhole close to him while he got into rut made by a tank. A sniper’s bullet killed the other marine.

 

At nightfall, he heard American voices from behind a hill and found men from his platoon there. In the morning, he was still curious as to where the Japanese hand grenades had come from, so he went back to the place where he had been lying. Surprisingly enough, he found that the spot, in which he was laying on, was a Japanese pillbox, where from underground Japanese had been throwing those hand grenades.


The scariest part for Marty was what he couldn’t see or hear. The Marines did not shoot their guns at night because it would give away their position more easily. Later the Japanese came out at night to get water and the American soldiers would try to intercept them.

 


One night as he laid watch with his corporal, Archie, he heard a loud clanking from below the cliff they were laying on. As he looked over, he found 20-30 Japanese with canteens walking very closely by. When he asked Archie what to do, Archie told him just to keep very quiet. Laughing, Marty said he hoped he would say that.

 

On Iwo Jima Marty had many experiences that became very memorable to him. Some were very comical, while others were very moving. Lucky Strikes was a common brand of cigarettes made in the U.S. During the war, Lucky Strikes had to change from green packaging to white packaging, due to a chemical in the green packaging needed for the war. One of Marty’s duties was to search the caves and while searching, he laughingly said, he came upon a cave in which there were hundreds of boxes of Lucky Strikes cigarettes with the old green packaging.

 

Another time while searching caves, he came upon one with two dead Japanese soldiers lying in it. One had his wallet lying next to him. Marty picked up the wallet to find pictures of this man’s wife and children. He said at that moment he knew that the Japanese were real people too with families and that the slogan “the only good Jap, is a dead Jap” wasn’t true.


Marty was on Iwo Jima for a little over 20 days. Days in which many men died (only 30 out of 200 lived in his company). Once while getting passed hot food from one foxhole to another, a soldier in his foxhole decided he would take it to the next and was shot while doing so. Marty said that because the Marines had taken Iwo Jima, 26,000 lives were believed to have been saved since the airplane pilots now had a place to land. Iwo Jima was halfway between Japan and Guam.

 

Marty also told of another horrifying experience when he jumped into a foxhole in which another Marine was already there. The Marine was moving but not saying anything. Marty looked and saw that the man was dead and the maggots that were eating away at him were moving him. This was probably one of Marty’s worst memories of Iwo Jima.



While sitting on Iwo with some other Marines, a nice photographer came over and asked if he could take their picture in exchange for souvenirs the Marines had. Marty never wanted to collect any souvenirs like many of the soldiers, due to the fact that he never cared about them. So Marty just simply smiled and posed assuming he would not get a picture. The photographer that he had been talking to who later sent him the picture was Pulitzer Prize winner Joe Rosenthal.

 

When he arrived back on Guam, he found his brother there who was a naval officer on the Battleship New Jersey. Besides spending time with him, he was also going through additional training which he later found out was the preparation work for an attack on Japan.
But, the atomic bomb dropped which became a very happy day for all those stationed on Guam who were packed and ready to invade Japan.



Marty recalled listening to the American radio soon after the bomb dropped and hearing the people debate on whether or not to give Japan an emperor. Marty jokingly replied, “give
them two for all I care, I just want to go home!”



Another comical event that happened was on V-J day. Marty, his brother, and a Marine chaplain that he knew from back home all went to party that night. As the night progressed, the chaplain started to get more and more drunk and started to get into a fight with a naval commander. Then the chaplain yelled to the commander, “I’m just a Marine chaplain, and he’s just a Marine Corps
private first class, but we’ll kick the hell out of all of you.” After that, all three of them ran to their jeep and made their way through the jungle very quickly.

 


One thing I thought was really interesting that I learned was that while still on Guam and before coming home, Marty said they took cargo ships out into the ocean and dumped the supplies and jeeps they were carrying. He said that it was supposedly good for the economy, since everyone was starting to build things again. But, it could have also been cheaper than just shipping it all back.

 

On Guam, Marty applied to go home and got it. He was shipped back to Hawaii where he was assigned to the fleet Marine headquarters and ended up in charge of all the janitor work there under the headquarters commander. He also went to school at night at Hawaii University while he was there.



After being on Hawaii, he was sent to the Marine Corps headquarters in Washington D.C. After being discharged there, he was supposed to stay and take a civilian job, but he decided not to and went home. Back home he went to law school and joined the National Guard.

 

The National Guard was called up in 1952 toward the end of the Korean War. Marty had to go through officers training for the Army and was shipped to Korea. He said on the ship there were many young officers who were anxious to go, whereas he was hoping the ship would sink just enough so that he could go home. He became a platoon commander there where he helped set up the demilitarized zone.



Marty explained many differences between Iwo Jima and Korea which I found to be
very interesting. One thing he laughingly said, “Korea was a lot quieter!” There were helicopters and much better and quicker medical help in Korea too When off the battle line in Korea the Army required the troops to receive education on the Constitution, etc.  While the Marines
when not in combat were allowed to participate in recreational activities, in other words, to work hard and play hard.  Marty spent time with the Marines who treated him well as an ex-marine and joked with him about being in the army now.




After coming home from Korea, he finished law school and was married. He received a bronze star in Korea and combat infantry badge. At age 27, he ran for state legislature from Lucas County and served for three terms.



He explained that his life had not been affected by the wars he was in. “It was an experience” he said, “life is full of experiences”. He feels that since he was 18, it was almost like a dream and that he just didn’t take it as real at the time. Now, it almost feels like it was somebody else.



At first I was surprised at this response but I later came to realize that Marty was a man who went to do a job and do it well and then get home to his family. He said that the only heroes of war are the ones that don’t come back. But, in my eyes Mr. Galvin is a hero due to his courage in the face of war.



Overall, I really enjoyed this interview and meeting Marty. I expected and hoped that this would be a worthwhile project and that I would learn something from it which I definitely did. I learned that patience will always help and war is not all its cracked up to be.




War is not a bunch of tough guys who go in and know exactly what they are going to do and are willing to die at any minute, but it is men who are all scared and are out there to do a good job and protect others and simply get home. But, most importantly I have learned that life is full of experiences and that you should take each one a step at a time.

 


I have learned about Iwo Jima and the Korean War in school and found that Marty’s stories and experiences are historically accurate. Even Bob, his son, commented on how close everything he said was to a documentary they had on TV a while back. But, I did learn many new things that I didn’t learn in class, such as the dumping of supplies in the ocean after the war and the fact that on Iwo Jima they hardly ever saw any Japanese because they were all underground.



This project had many benefits to it and there isn’t anything that I would do differently. I believe that I have gained historical knowledge and life’s lessons. It showed me a different view of a soldier then I had always seen in the movies or on TV. The project showed me how scary war can be and how much courage one would have to have to endure it. In the end I realized how grateful all Americans should be for the brave people who put themselves in danger to protect  our country and our way of life.  Mr. Robert Martin Galvin is a true American hero.


This image is of Marty and his wife at the WWII Memorial.

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