FAIRFIELD — Lew Martin is grounded. By his own choice.
“I kind of hate flying now,” said the Paradise Valley resident, who spent 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, including flying 295 missions over Vietnam. “Flying is just terrible these days.”
He and his wife of 50 years, Ann, travel by car when they can. Airport security measures make it simpler to go by auto, he says.
Martin took his first solo flight when he was 16. He also purchased his first airplane that year, for $600.
“It had fewer instruments than my Volvo today,” he said. Eighteen months later, Martin sold the plane for $600.
At the University of Cincinnati, Martin joined the college’s ROTC program in his freshman year. He was commissioned after graduating.
One of his earliest assignments was with the Air Force in England, when the Cold War was being waged. He flew over friendly European skies. There were also regular flights to Libya for gunnery training.
Martin was part of defending against the Tet offensive in Vietnam. Years later, he realized the myths in the United States surrounding the battle.
“It flabbergasted me,” he said. “I had a friend on the peace team in Paris during the Tet. We won every battle there. But we lost the battle at home. We lost our political will during that. It was disheartening to see our efforts fall apart.”
He also did a four-year tour with the Army and taught at the equivalent of a “Top Gun” school.
His family, which included two sons, was stationed in Turkey with NATO. Martin extended his stay there so one son could finish high school in Turkey.
Martin also taught at the NATO defense college in Rome and served as a base commander, at one point overseeing 8,000 people – about 3,000 of them civilians.
“It was kind of like being the mayor or city supervisor,” he said.
When he felt like “the old toad in the room,” Martin decided it was time to retire. The challenges were not there anymore.
“I always felt like I was doing something worthwhile,” he said.
After retiring from the military, he went to school and learned auto technology. Martin is known to help fellow Paradise Valley residents fix their autos.
It’s a place of comfort for both he and his wife. Ann Martin’s father was raised by Quakers, who don’t believe in military service. Living the military life offered her support and showed her parts of the world she may have never visited.
“I loved my military life,” she said. “And I learned respect and responsibility.”
There’s a bond not found in civilian life, Ann Martin said.
“Even today, people stand up for one another. They help each other. I’ve been in civilian life for 17 years and it’s not the same bond.”
Both of their sons were in the military; one in the Navy, the other in the Army. Their youngest son, who served on submarines in the Navy, died in 2001.
The Martins’ neighbors include his sister Carla and her husband Jack Sorrelle. Jack Sorrelle served more than 30 years in the U.S. military.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.