A piece of the past returns to TH vetLanny Martinson grew up in the Knife River valley and graduated from Two Harbors High School in 1962.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Lanny Martinson grew up in the Knife River valley and graduated from Two Harbors High School in 1962.
In June 1968, he was a 24-year-old U.S. Marine Corps platoon sergeant on patrol with his troops near Khe Sanh, Vietnam. The group came upon a mine field. One of the mines exploded and Martinson was injured. A second mine detonated as additional troops converged to take the wounded to safety.
Martinson lost his right leg. Six other men lost their lives, he recalls.
He was evacuated to the U.S., leaving his platoon and his belongings behind. Medics had cut the clothing from his body as they treated his injuries. His dog tags were lost in the shuffle. In the weeks that followed, their whereabouts quickly lost importance, as just days later, tragedy struck again.
“When Lanny got hurt, he got shipped to California,” recalled his sister Ruth Ann Udenberg, who along with Wendy, their 10-year-old sister, mother, Iva, and Lanny’s former wife, Bernadette, embarked on a 2,000-mile trip to see him on June 30.
“That date is etched in my mind,” Udenberg told the News-Chronicle this week as she recounted her brother’s story — and that of their sister:
A car accident in Nebraska claimed Wendy’s life and sent Udenburg to the hospital in critical condition.
“I’m not sure how my mother made it through that time,” Udenburg said.
Martinson returned to Two Harbors where the community welcomed him with open arms, he told the News-Chronicle from his home in Sugar Land, Texas.
But there were challenges that began to take a toll on him. He struggled with post- traumatic stress, he said. At at the time little was known about PTSD and strategies to help veterans cope.
Many, like Martinson, were left to try to manage on their own.
“When you’re in combat, it’s a rush like you can’t imagine. Afterwards you try to come down from it. Your body is just shaking, so you sit down, light a cigarette and wait for it to pass,” he said.
“A lot of guys, when they come back, they’re trying to replace that feeling and it takes a while to get over that,” he said. Some may turn to alcohol, drugs or become distant and disconnected as a means to cope. Martinson said he found something that has helped him: writing, and he encourages others to begin unpacking their memories through writing or talking about them.
“You need to talk about it. It kind of scares you,” he said, advising: “sit down and write about it. Expect to have tears running down your face, but just do it. It will do you good.”
Martinson was urged by his wife, Delphine, to put his writing into a book. In 2011, he completed “After the Rush,” but he hasn’t taken steps to publish his work.
“It’s fiction based on factual events from my life and my friends’ lives and I’ve combined them to make a book,” Martinson said. “I just wanted to self-publish and have a copy for my daughter, stepchildren and step grandchildren.”
His daughter, Bobbi is the reason he began thinking about his dog tags again. She asked him where they were.
“I had no idea,” Martinson said. “(At the time I lost them) I was in a lot of pain and on morphine, so I wasn’t too sharp.”
So at the beginning of this month, he decided to order a duplicate tag online. Just two days later, he received a message from someone saying that one of his original dog tags had been found by a teacher from Australia, John Naesmith, who had been in Vietnam.
“As I was walking through the undergrowth, I saw something bright, shining in the sunlight,” Naesmith wrote on the website of the San Diego Harley Riders, which assisted in his search for Martinson. “I reached down, cleared away the dirt, and found the dog tag. I could not believe it.”
Naesmith found the tag two years ago and tried to get contact information for Martinson from the United States Marine Corps and American Vietnam Veterans Association, to no avail. Eventually, he turned over the tag to a motorcycle shop owner and friend in California. An active duty Marine and wife of a Navy vet got involved in the search for Martinson.
Udenberg said that once that once the Harley club and others got involved, it took just two days to find her brother and tell him his tag had been found.
His story has gone viral on the Internet. As of Tuesday, it had received over 180,000 hits from all over the world, and Martinson said he’s receiving dozens of messages and friend requests on Facebook each day.
To date he doesn’t know when he’ll receive the tags, but in the meantime he’s been busy answering emails and granting interviews. He said he’s overwhelmed by the kindness and support people have expressed.
“The thing that amazes me most is that on Memorial Day, for most people it’s just a day off from work and a picnic, but this shows that people really do care,” he said. And he’s determined to return the favor; saying he’ll use this opportunity to call attention to his military brothers and sisters. He writes:
“I want to share all this attention I am getting with all the Veterans of Viet Nam and all those that are now serving their country as we once did. I didn’t do anything to deserve to be singled out, it just happened. I hope that all this will enable me to help all of you in some way. Now that my name has circled the globe, I hope to be able to bring attention, in some way, to our brave brothers and sisters that are now serving on active duty.”
In a P.S., “To my Marine Brothers and Sisters,” he added: “There is no honor greater than what you have given me. To be recognized by all of you, indeed makes me feel humble. I hope I am able to make you all proud. I earned the title Marine when I was 17 and I am proud to say that 51 years later I remain a Marine, and will until my last breath. Ooh-rah.”