Friday, October 5, 2018

Clarence "Gypsy" Martin

[UPDATE, April 25, 2019: We now have a genuine photo of MSGT Martin]

This is my sketch of Clarence “Gypsy” Martin. I have not seen a photograph of him, so artistic license was exercised here. He was a singular character among the 34,000 or so men who died in Korea. Born “somewhere out west” in 1922, he was at times soft-spoken and bookish, the sort who enjoyed throwing big words into conversations.  Martin served in World War II, where he was badly injured as he manned a machine gun. His valor was witnessed by the famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who lobbied unsuccessfully to have Martin awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Martin was, however, successful in getting a metal plate fitted to replace the portion of his skull that was creased by a bullet.  

After his World War II discharge, he was at a bit of a loss.  He lifted weights and enjoyed playing baseball. He regularly went to church. Still, he was restless, and after a few months, he re-enlisted in the Army. He met his wife Myrle in 1948, with whom he settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A year later, she bore him a son. Myrle taught him to crochet, and he proceeded to create afghans, doilies, and tablecloths.

By 1950 he was a Master Sergeant, and by 1951 in Korea, with the 21st Infantry Regiment. He led a rifle platoon.  He cut quite a figure on the battlefields of Korea. Swarthy complexioned and medium height, he wore a handlebar mustache, the tips of which he kept meticulously waxed.  He eschewed a helmet because of the plate in his skull. He wore his hair long, slicked back in a pompadour. To this he added a bandana and a pair of earrings, courtesy of Myrle. For laughs, we may suppose, he affixed little bells to his combat boots. Clarence Martin would be called “Gypsy” by the men under his command. Combat brought out Martin’s aggression as well as his booming voice. “C’mon you SOBs, let’s get going!”

On April 25, 1951, at about 1:00 in the morning, Gypsy Martin and his platoon were near Chipo-ri North Korea, where they faced off on a hilltop against a swarm of Chinese infantry. Their position was overrun, with Martin being injured twice in the process. He ordered a retreat, but manned a machine gun to cover the platoon’s withdrawal. It was reported that before the machine gun ran out of ammunition, he killed between 50 and 80 Chinese. But before the platoon could fully withdraw, the Chinese deployed their own machine gun. Wounded and bleeding, Martin charged the enemy positions with a carbine. He fell, wounded again. The Americans watched as Gyspy Martin rose to his feet and walked – WALKED – into the ranks of Chinese. He grasped his carbine by the barrel, using it to club away at enemy soldiers.

The Americans re-took the position the next day.  There, they found Martin’s remains on the hill, accompanied by a number of Chinese around him. For months after the clash at Chipo-ri, Gypsy Martin’s colleagues told stories about him as they gathered around their campfires.

He was finally interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

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