By OLESIA PLOKHII | The Washington Post | Robert Martin, Tuskegee Airman who flew ’63 and a half’ combat missions, dies at 99
First Lieutenant Robert L. Martin (February 9, 1919 – July 26, 2018) was a Tuskegee Airman active during World War II.
Robert Martin was born in Dubuque, Iowa on February 9, 1919. His mother died shortly after his birth. His father was a podiatrist. When he attended an air show as a 13 year old Boy Scout, he was inspired to become a pilot. While still a student at Iowa State University, Martin learned to fly in a civilian pilot training program. In 1942, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
On January 7, 1944, at the age of 23, Martin graduated from flight training at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. He was a member of the 100th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group. Martin explained that Tuskegee was “segregated where they wanted it,” meaning students, ground crews, mechanics, medics and quartermasters were all black. Senior personnel instructors were all white, and acted almost like “gods.” Shortly after completing his training Martin was deployed to Italy. He likes to say he flew “63 and a half” combat missions during World War II.
On December 9, 1944, Martin was returning to base from an escort mission when his P-51 Mustang suffered engine trouble. He was forced to land at a gunnery range Cuetelo, Italy. As the plane fell over the rough ground, the propeller was damaged. Martin was able to walk away from the crash landing.
In March 1945, in what would have been his 64th mission, Martin was “cut down by ground fire” after an attack mission on an enemy airfield in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. In his own words, Martin explained that seven other pilots and himself were attempting to shoot two airplanes parked a little bit off a field. They missed their target, and were blown off course by 100 mph winds. Martin felt a bump in his airplane and realized he had been hit. The engine caught on fire and Martin was forced to bail. When his parachute opened it cut him on the chin and knocked him out. Martin found shelter in a farmhouse. He was eventually rescued and taken into the headquarters of Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans, and hidden until he could safely return to his unit. He remained there for about five weeks.
Following the war, Martin received his military discharge at the rank of captain.
Martin earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart. In 2007, Martin was among the recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony honoring the Tuskegee Airmen hosted by President George W Bush.
After the war
In 1945, Martin returned to the U.S. after Victory in Europe Day. He looked for electrical engineering jobs, but had a difficult time finding any. At the time people weren’t hiring black engineers. Martin held a variety of jobs including driving a taxi and working in factories. He was hired as a draftsman by the Chicago Park District, and went on to work as an electrical engineer for the city of Chicago. Martin retired after 37 years.
Martin was married for 68 years to the former Odette Ewell. They had four children, Gabrielle, Noelle, Dominique and Robert Martin, Jr. Martin died of pneumonia on July 26, 2018, at the age of 99.
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