Frank "Pepper" Martin, Private First Class
Anti Tank Company, 304th Infantry Regiment,
76th Infantry Division
Like many of his fellow soldiers, he never spoke of his war experience. When asked, "what he did during the war?" His standard, very humble answer was, "he walked around alot." Frank's grandson was lucky enough to spend alot of time watching the History Channel with his grandfather and receive a private, 1st hand narration of the events depicted on the TV screen. (He never did this with anyone else) Before Frank died in 1999, his grandson asked him to make some "cassette tapes" telling him about the war, the planes, the guns. So that he would always have his grandpa's voice telling him "those" stories. In secret, Frank did make these "tapes" for him. After Frank's death, his family found them. His widow transcribed the tapes, found all his pictures and put together a memoir of Frank's WWII experience. She contacted Jay Hamilton, LtC (retired), who was so knowledgable about the 76th Division, to ask him to read and give his opinion on her efforts. He approved. His widow was lucky enough to attend the May 15, 2001 Onaway tour. It was wonderful! She took many copies with her to give to the veterans on the tour and has since donated books to many more veterans and/or their families.
Following are excerpts from Frank's memoir, "My Time In The Army 1943 - 1946" by Frank "Pepper" Martin
"When we became involved in World War II, every young man who turned 17 years old had to sign up for the draft. I was working at the Picatinny Arsenal when I turned 17. I did not enlist but waited until I was drafted (as did most young men). No one really wanted to go into the army until war broke out, and then, most waited until they were called, as I did.
On March 1943, I was drafted into the Army. The old American Legion Headquarters, located on Speedwell Avenue in Morristown, New Jersey, was our departure point. We went by bus to Newark, New Jersey. I didn't want my parents to come down to see me off as I knew what the scene would be like - many parents crying and carrying on. I was surprised when I saw so many fellows that I knew through school and community. Newark was the gathering place for the many draftee groups who would be moved to the different army posts throughout the country. Our destination point was Fort Dix, New Jersey. Many of my traveling companions were real sick puppies as they had been out drinking and celebrating their last night of freedom. Many others looked sad and frightened. God, none of us knew what to expect. We just followed the guy ahead of us hoping he knew where he was going. Excitement and confusion filled the air. Upon our arrival at Fort Dix, we were lined up and marched away. For the first time, we realized that we, no longer, had control of our lives, as they were about to change.
We went through different lines to get our clothing. We were never measured so you can imagine how some of us must have looked. Most of the clothing was just thrown at us by a soldier who, more or less, judged with a quick eye, what size we wore. Shoes were the only item in which the military personnel supervised and measured. Every new recruit, quickly, learned why. Blisters were a no, no in this man's army. Medical shots were given in another location. Many guys never had a shot before and had to be picked up off the floor.
Our stay at Fort Dix lasted about a week at which time all types of medical tests and interviews with personnel took place. During this time, we had our heads shaved just in case someone had lice. Another reason for shaving the head was to break a person down and make them more susceptible to discipline. This really happens. It's not just the movie version of army life. We were, also, introduced to the army's favorite project - KP. I was the only one who did not have to pull KP simply because my records showed that I had been a butcher, years ago - age nine, and knew how to cut meat. Remember, I grew up in the Depression years when children were expected and allowed to work at an early age. My work project while at Fort Dix consisted of cutting all types of meat, especially, pork chops. Even today, when I see pork chops, I can't help but think of my first job in the army. They kept me busy. I never had to do any of the garbage details.
Quite a few of my friends were still at Fort Dix as well as many who came from the Morris County area. Even if we didn't know them, personally, we knew the area where they came from and that single fact made us a team. It's funny how something like that can make people feel close. I guess it's the need of sharing something in common when you are amongst so many strangers.
Eventually, as new recruits, the processing to other training camps throughout the country began. It was during April when my orders came. I was headed south on an old, cole burning train, nothing like the present day trains. Grit, dust, cinders and dirt were everywhere. I don't think any of the cars were ever cleaned. The train only carried couch cars which meant one sat and slept in the same seat. If no seats were available, then, it was the floor. Many troops traveled along with civilians and this was hard on everyone. During the war, many couch trains had to be diverted off the main tracks until an on-coming troop train passed through. Troop trains received top priority over any other type of train. This caused constant delays in traveling. We were diverted several times, making the trip twice as long. Trains were not equipped with air conditioning or heated cars, as they are today. I was still wearing my winter uniform (OD's) and my "wool" OD's made me about as uncomfortable as one could get."
Further into Frank's memoir he recounts,
"Another story that "came down through the lines" was another example that in war, life is cheap. Life holds no value at all. How true it is, I can't say but, I do know that in war, men can inflict terrible suffering on other men. The story revolved around a small town in Germany. I can't remember its name. Anyway, the entire area, outside of the town, had been thoroughly bushwhacked by some of our armed forces. They then decided not to move out until the following morning. The local people acted friendly. However, one of the officers felt an uneasiness within the village. He posted guards throughout the town during the night. The rest of the unit found an open area where they were able to bed down, yet still observe the town. Early the next morning, they awoke to the news that all the guards had been killed. The officer, immediately, turned the big guns toward the town and blasted it to "Hell". The town was flattened and left in a blaze of fire. It just goes to show you that you can't be nice in war, not even for a brief moment, as it will come back and bite you. I have often thought about that town, it's people, and the act - itself. Whether it was true or not, it was all part of war, as situations like that did happen. No need to say anymore.
Dresden was another story. No military value at all. However, it was declared an "Open City". It was known to be "a thousand years old". The Germans told the Americans and the British that they would not destroy England's Buckingham Palace so long as we would spare the destruction of Dresden. There were to be no air bombings or troops entering this city. It had beautiful old buildings and antiques that were irreplaceable. We had an understanding with them, but unfortunately, we did not honor it. The Russians wanted revenge for the terrible destruction their old and beautiful cities by the Germans. They were going to destroy it whether we liked it or not. For three days, non-stop, the British and American planes bombed Dresden, literally, destroying the entire city killing over 70,000 people. It was near dusk, our Company leader decided to hold up and rest as we were in an open hilly area. It seemed like the sky suddenly turned into complete darkness. We all looked up and saw a never-ending parade of bombers passing over. We knew what we were watching. All I could think was, "Boy, someone is going to get the hell knocked out of them, tonight!" What shocked me the most when I heard it was the city of Dresden; I realized that my concern was not with the death of the populace but the terrible destruction of those beautiful and ancient buildings and the antiques that could never be replaced. I knew, then, that I had become a hardened soldier. I knew the war was taking a toll on me. C'est La Guerre."
Frank's memoir contains over thirty pages of his experiences and over twenty pages of photos and memorbilia. If you would like a hard copy of his book, it can be purchased from Frank’s widow. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, in an effort to keep up with technology, Frank's grandson placed the book on Amazon's site for the Kindle. For a download onto the Kindle or to your computer or laptop, please copy and paste or simply click the following link http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005GRBBKK into your browser.