Navy man Martinson was there as World War II ended … and he was there as Vergas plans permanent tribute to veterans of all wars
He strapped on a necktie with his Veterans of Foreign Wars dress shirt; poked a shovel in the earth; hoisted and tossed some soil; and tugged Old Glory into the air…
Not a bad day’s work for 95-year-old Alwyn Martinson, from the Vergas senior living complex.
Almost like a day on the Silent Lake area dairy farm he operated for about a half-century—minus the necktie.
But Oct. 11, 2021 was not at all like Martinson’s hellish days in the Pacific of May-June 1945.
Sailor Alwyn wasn’t swatting dive-bombing Minnesota mosquitoes and barnyard flies 75 years ago. He was on the lookout for buzzing Japanese Kamikaze “suicide” pilots in the skies above Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
5,000 of his Navy comrades were killed at Okinawa; and 7,500 Marines. An epic and gruesome campaign, there were nearly 550,000 U.S. Troops, 12,000 aircraft and 1,600 ships engaged—considerably larger than the amphibious D-Day assault on the Germans the previous year in Europe.
Radio and signal man, Martinson was a participant in history. He was a witness to the iconic flag raising at Iwo Jima, another bloody affair in the island-hopping war with Japan, which established a base for the invasion of Okinawa.
A radio operator, he helped coordinate the first wave of tanks and equipment, which was followed by landing crafts full of troops.
And the spry veteran had a bounce in his step as he participated in the groundbreaking and flag-raising ceremony at the Vergas Veterans Memorial Oct. 11.
The lone World War II veteran at the program, Martinson earned special honors by the Vergas committee, with its ambitious campaign to complete the memorial—beyond the center field fence at the Vergas town baseball diamond.
A 17-year-old from the Breckenridge area in 1944, his father had to sign off in order for the underage Martinson to enlist.
“My dad was so proud. Two of my brothers also served, in the Merchant Marines,” said Alwyn.
Hard to imagine though it is, there are moments of charm and humor in battle. Alwyn has a classic story.
Hundreds upon hundreds of watercraft were staging for the Iwo Jima invasion, at the island of Guam. He had reason to believe his Merchant Marine brother was somewhere in the massive flotilla. Being a radio man, Alwyn put out the signal: “Anybody out there from Breckenridge, Minnesota?”
Signal received. Over and Out. And the two Martinson boys connected in faraway Guam.
Martinson relocated to the Vergas area after the war, and the family had strong connections to both Vergas and Pelican Rapids. All five of the Martinson kids graduated from Pelican Rapids High School: Dennis, David, Donna, Mary Lou and Carol.
A relative “youngster” by World War II veteran standards, and by all appearances, a healthy guy—you can count on Sailor Alwyn at a follow-up dedication ceremony next June, as the second phase of the Vergas Veterans Memorial is well underway. And, if the old Navy man has anything to say about it, he will also be in uniform for the completion and final ribbon-cutting.
Vergas Navy veteran was witness to the carnage at Okinawa, Iwo Jima in the final days of Second World War
Vergas Navy veteran Alwyn Martinson was there for what was the final major battle of the World War II: The invasion of Okinawa.
During the Battle of Okinawa, the Fifth Fleet suffered: 36 sunk ships. 368 damaged ships. 4,900 men killed or drowned.
The 98-day battle lasted from 26 March until 2 July 1945. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were planning to use Kadena Air Base on the large island of Okinawa as a base for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands, 340 mi (550 km) away.
Victory at Okinawa cost more than 49,000 American casualties, including about 12,000 deaths.
The battle was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, with approximately 160,000 casualties combined: at least 50,000 Allied and up to 117,000 Japanese, including drafted Okinawans wearing Japanese uniforms. An estimated 100,000 Okinawa civilians also perished, either caught in the crossfire between the two armies or through forced mass suicide.
So heavy were the losses at Okinawa, that the U.S. decided to unleash its secret weapon. Instead of a catastrophic invasion of the Japanese mainland, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—forcing surrender of the Japanese Imperial Army.