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Learning on location

Clear Lake man has seen the world, continues to learn through educational travel opportunities

By Bill Vossler

David Martin, 87, of Clear Lake, joined the Navy to see the world. What he didn’t realize was how much of the world he would end up seeing.

David Martin, a retired Navy Captain who now lives in Clear Lake (left), and another veteran, were honored to lay a wreath in a ceremony in memory of those who died at Normandy. The ceremony was part of a trip organized by Road Scholar specifically for veterans. Photo by Gretchen Martin.

“It really began when I was a child,” he said. “My early traveling memories involved an old Hudson for local trips.

A long train trip to Florida at age five with his dad for two weeks helped him learn that traveling can provide unique learning experiences, like sleeping in the sleeper car, eating in a moving restaurant and meeting a variety of people. What he didn’t realize was how curious that made him about traveling.

“That you could learn from meeting other people. After that, I didn’t travel in a major way until I joined the Navy in 1955, where I was assigned starting in Rhode Island, New York City and Albany New York, Spain, Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Puerto Rico, Scotland, Morocco, Denmark, Norway, and the North Sea. Then Vietnam came along, and I made an E6 by then, and the Navy was looking for candidates who were senior active enlisted Navy Reservists who had strong journalism backgrounds. I also had minored in public speaking in college, so I was a strong candidate, and got a commission in 1965 as an Ensign.”

So he became a speech writer for various senior military personnel.

“I  would be cast to write a speech for them to speak to a group. I also wrote news articles about events that the Navy wanted to have covered, including hometown news releases for some people on whatever ship I was on. The Navy figured that would be good to have an article written about the mission the ship was on. For me those were all experiences worth having, and a number were very unique.”

Unique Experiences

David Martin and his wife Gretchen had this picture of them taken while they were in Paris. Contributed photo

One unique experience was in Norway.

“I was ordered to report to the USS El Paso, temporarily anchored off the small town of Tromso, Norway, in a fjord surrounded by mountains of snow. I hopped a ride from the airport in a helicopter and landed on the ship. Then I rode that ship down the coast of Norway all the way to Denmark.”

Another was the experience of a lifetime: a trip to Normandy for veterans organized by the Road Scholar group. He has taken several trips through this educational travel organization.

“When we heard about that trip to Normandy for veterans, I grabbed it as fast as I could. So Gretchen and I and another veteran friend flew to Paris this past September, and toured Parisian sites by Motor Coach, like the Eiffel Tower and Arc d’Triomphe, and saw the refurbishing going on for Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as a tour of the city one evening as we rode by boat down the beautiful Seine River. Again, the sense of how wonderful travel is, and how enlightening.

“But even more important was going to Normandy. My Uncle Bill had fought in France during WWII as a medic and was wounded three times. I’d always wanted to go to Normandy to honor him. At the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy and the US cemetery,  I had a real tingling sensation just observing the beautiful sandy beaches and the seemingly endless rows of white crosses at the American cemetery in contrast to the remnants of war in the old armaments still there. That was a very momentous occasion. I was honored with two other veterans when we were given the responsibility of laying a wreath at a memorial in honor of all the fallen on that momentous day. After laying the wreath and turning to walk away, an elderly man struggling with a walker approached me with tears streaming down his face. He didn’t say anything, but I could see he was feeling something deeply.  All I knew was how he was feeling.  I took his hand and held it in mine and looked him in the eye, then stepped aside. It was a very moving moment.

“Another unique experience occurred at a Road Scholar trip to Pearl Harbor on Dec 7,  70 years later. The focus of our trip was to help restore the USS Missouri, a WWII battleship, the site of the signing of surrender terms by the Japanese to end World War II. The ship remains moored at a pier in Pearl Harbor and is open to the public. Along with about 30 others from all over the U.S., Gretchen and I helped refurbish the ship. One of my jobs was painting the anchor chain,” David said with a laugh. “It was so big we didn’t even have time to paint the entire chain, but it made you feel real good to stay aboard the ship that night in the bulk head. It didn’t matter what tasks we took on. We were helping restore a part of history.”

While in Korea, David met a Korean Navy veteran, and they decided to have a small ceremony honoring each other. “We both thought it was special,“ David said. They then exchanged their Naval caps. Photo by Gretchen Martin.

Another unique experience during David’s travels was when in South Korea to participate in a wedding. “There I learned to eat dried seaweed, but it was delicious. We even got a chance to harvest our own seafood meals. They made it taste delicious. In contrast, the food in the Navy, usually prepared with care, too often was not.  Tasteless is the best way to describe the result. Maybe I had gotten so used to being served such meals that I unintentionally continued the practice one critical time when my wife was sick and I was responsible for the meals. The meal was chicken with gravy over toast but she thought I had lost it.  A call was quickly placed for our daughter to rescue her.

“In Korea, Gretchen learned about a group of women famous in history at the turn of the 20th century who were divers off Jejue island the near the southern tip of South Korea. 

“Some of the wedding party got a chance to put on wetsuits, and under the supervision of two professional women divers, dove for seafood. Gretchen and I didn’t qualify age-wise, but that was okay with us. What was harvested, including shells containing snails, crabs and various plants, was later cooked and eaten with pleasure. That was a truly South Korean experience.”

While in South Korea, David visited the demilitarized zone. “I was in awe of it as I walked to a place where I could see the whole area of the DMZ in front of me in the distance.”

Another unique and memorable experience occurred in Seoul. “I was riding a crowded subway, holding on tightly to a hand clasp, when an older woman stood up and offered me her seat. At first I was confused because our roles seemed reversed. Normally in the U.S. I would be making that same gesture. After hesitating a moment, I realized this courtesy was not only sincere but likely very common culturally. It was, and is, a gesture of respect for a senior citizen still practiced in South Korea, although I’ve been told it is less common today with younger generations. As much as I hate to admit it, I was probably the oldest person riding in that car. That experience repeated itself at least a half a dozen times in South Korea. So I guess I have to admit the fact that I really look like a senior,” he laughed, “but can’t complain about the cultural benefits.”

Another surprise in South Korea was a special ice cream treat he had never encountered, “A bowl of shaved ice with a substantial coating of syrup, chocolate being the most common.  Of course, many other delicious ingredients found their way as toppings, a seemingly healthy treat.”

Enlightening Travel

David said he met people of varied backgrounds, “Which infused me more with realizing how good travel was. It’s an education in itself. It is not only an opportunity to learn about other cultures, but even more likely, about yourself. I always found it to be something more than I realized it was going to be. Keeping an open mind makes both possible. People surprise you no matter where in the world you travel.”

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