Lanny Martinsons next chapterLanny Martinson’s story has touched lives all over the world. The Lake County native, now living in Sugar Land, Texas, was just a young Marine Corps platoon sergeant when he and his men walked into a mine field in southeast Asia. His is a story of loss, survival, redemption and a struggle against painful memories.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
? ~Tim O’Brien, from The Things They Carried
Lanny Martinson’s story has touched lives all over the world. The Lake County native, now living in Sugar Land, Texas, was just a young Marine Corps platoon sergeant when he and his men walked into a mine field in southeast Asia. His is a story of loss, survival, redemption and a struggle against painful memories.
Last June Martinson received a call telling him that an Australian, John Naismith, had found a dog tag bearing his name near an abandoned airstrip in Khe Sanh, Vietnam — the place from which Martinson was evacuated over four decades before, after a landmine claimed his leg, four men in his platoon and injured 12 more. Naismith spend two unsuccessful years looking for Martinson to return the dog tag, but eventually turned it over to an American friend who searched just two days before finding Martinson.
Then, last Saturday, after over 45 years and before a gathering of hundreds at a VFW post in Missouri City, Texas, Martinson received the lost piece of his past — Naismith placed the dog tag in Martinson’s hand.
It was a day of many surprises for Martinson, who was accompanied by his wife, Delphine and daughter, Bobbi.
“Just driving there was pretty emotional,” Martinson said Tuesday. His car was escorted to the post by the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club and he was met there by the Patriot Guard holding large American flags.
“Driving through those flags is quite an emotional thing for a military guy,” said Martinson.
The presentation ceremony included speakers; Naismith, who gave his account of finding the dog tag, Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen who read a proclamation designating Aug. 24, 2013, Lanny Martinson Day ,and Missouri City Councilman Danny Nguyen. Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam, said he came to the U.S. after a harrowing three year journey that included weeks in a small boat and over two years in a concentration camp. He publicly thanked Martinson and the American soldiers who served during the Vietnam War. He credits them for the opportunities that he and those of his country of birth have had.
”I shared with them that I came from Vietnam and we are so grateful for what these vets have done for us. Because of them, we have freedom of speech, freedom of enterprise, freedom to be who we are. I want him to know his sacrifice meant something,” Nguyen said from his home in Texas this week. But words of thanks were only the beginning. Martinson said Naismith took him aside after the ceremony and asked if he’d return to Vietnam if he could. Martinson said he would, but when he could afford it. Naismith disappeared into the crowd, later returning to Martinson.
“He said, ‘I’m going to be in Vietnam next year. I’ll meet you in Danang,’” Martinson reported. Naismith said that Nguyen offered to pay for Martinson’s flight. Nguyen said he sees the trip as a way to build a bridge between past and present for Martinson and he plans to raise funds to purchase the ticket.
“He seems to have the need to close the emotional gap,” Nguyen said,” if this is his dream, it’s the least we can do.”
Martinson’s story has travelled around the world via print and broadcast media, including the story that appeared in the Lake County News-Chronicle that went viral just days after it was published. In fact, an Australian film crew flew in for the presentation ceremony in Missouri City last weekend. Martinson said people have reached out to him from all over the world, many sharing their experiences and memories of lost loved ones, and others offering very special gifts representing the connection they feel to him and his story.
He received the ashes of a Marine sniper and Vietnam vet who had died just days before, a World War II medal from the son of its recipient ,and a gift of a feather, tobacco, and sage blessed by the spiritual leader of the Pala Tribe from California, among many others. Martinson said each gift will have a special place in his home.
Of the trip to Vietnam —Nguyen’s gift — Martinson said his plans include returning to the place where he sustained the physical and emotional scars he now bears. After the ceremony where he received his dog tag, Martinson posted this message on Facebook expressing his hopes for that day.
“I believe my journey will come full circle when I once again stand on hill 861N in Khe Sanh. I feel that it is the only place where I can honor my brothers that gave their lives and their blood on that day. My trip to Vietnam is supposed to take place in June. I am going to everything in my power to be there on June 4, the anniversary date. Maybe then after some serious crying and praying I can shed some of the guilt that I carry with me every day and find some peace.”
Martinson has written a book, After the Rush, about his experiences in Vietnam and the struggles he and many veterans face when they return from battle. He has sent the manuscript to a publisher and expects the book to come out this fall. He is now writing a second book in which he will tell the story of the return of his dog tag. That book will be completed after his visit to Vietnam.