Francis Xavier Martin was born February 24, 1925, in Fall River, MA. Red hair, green eyes, freckles - he was the epitome of a hard scrabble Irish boy who came from the wrong side of the tracks.
In February 1942, he turned 17 and convinced my grandmother to sign a waiver that would let him leave high school and enlist in the Marine Corps. At the end of his boot camp at Parris Island, he was given the chance to volunteer for a "special" Army unit. As Dad recalled, "I was 17 and full of piss and vinegar . . . so I raised my hand." He found himself in a new unit - Darby's Rangers.
He was there in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944. Dad was 19 years old - years later when he volunteered at the VA and worked with men who had served in Vietnam, he said they got along because "I knew what it was like to lose my childhood to war." My father told me about that day - men who jumped off the landing craft too soon and drowned from the weight of their gear, pink water, seeing a buddy's head and torso and nothing else lying in the sand. My father said it was like a stop action film - at times he had remarkable clarity of what was going on around him, and then suddenly he would be another 25 yards ahead and had no memory of how he got there. He remembered pausing at the base of the cliffs, looking up and seeing the Germans firing down at him, and thought, "Well, this is going to be a bitch." And he said he then calmly threw up his rappelling hook and did what he came to do.
We lost Dad on May 16, 1995 to cancer. At his request, he is buried at Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island, NY. He asked to be placed in a section with other WWII veterans. He is there, among his comrades. But throughout his life, every patriotic holiday came in second in his mind - always first was June 6th, a day that was a moment of definition for my Dad.
God bless my father - Francis, Frank, Frannie, "Red", however he was known - and his fellow US Army Rangers.