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Interview with Virginia Martin [June 28, 2001]

Patricia McClain:

This afternoon we are interviewing Virginia Martin, Virginia F. Martin, 303 East Walnut Street, Salem, Indiana, date of birth, July the 24th, 1923. My name is Pat McClain, and I'm on the staff of U. S. Senator Richard Lugar. With me is Gertrude Stevenson, who is the Washington coordinator for the Library of Congress and Richard Lugar, Veterans' History Project.

Patricia McClain:

Ms. Martin, I understand that you would like to talk with us today about your family and how they served in World War II.

Virginia Martin:

Yes. I would like to tell about my family. I'm one of six children of Attorney James G. and Lennie Martin Burphy (ph), who came from a Salem pioneer family, were in the--and five of the children of the six of us were in the armed services. Jonas, David, and Lucy enlisted in the U. S. Navy, Richard in the U. S. Army Medical Corps, and I was in the Cadet--just a Nurse Cadet Corps. Jonas M. Burphy, my oldest brother, he had been a second-year law student at IU, enlisted in the U. S. Naval Reserves soon after Pearl Harbor. He was called to duty in August 1942, took his basic training at Notre Dame University, and was sent to Columbia University for technical naval studies in the so-called 90-day wonder program. In March of '43, Jonas was flown to his duty station aboard the USS SC-1039, a sub chaser, and the convoy of which it was a part. That was what the convoys did. They had to have escort vessels.

Patricia McClain:

Right.

Virginia Martin:

The convoy cruised along the northern coast of South America to display the U. S. flag in areas which had been heavily infiltrated with German nationals. For the rest of the tour of duty, it escorted merchant vessels around Guadalcanal and other islands in that vicinity, protecting them from the Japanese submarines which infested those waters. He encountered many harrowing experiences. Jonas was promoted to lieutenant after a number of months, then assumed command of his ship for the remainder of his time in that theater of war. One time he stayed on duty for a week without sleep.

It was during this period a surprising and pleasant event occurred. He was addressing a letter to his brother David and realized they were headquartered on the same island. He found David, and they spent a very happy afternoon together. Not all of his experiences were that pleasant. Lieutenant Burphy was seasick much of the time. He contracted malaria in Panama and was hospitalized five times, becoming thin and malnourished. He later wrote, a valuable lesson he learned in service was that one can do whatever is needed, regardless of feeling.

Patricia McClain:

That's nice.

Virginia Martin:

Yeah. He really--he really had a hard time. The second brother, Richard J. Burphy, Richard James, was Tech 5 in the 1015th Counterintelligence Corps detachment. Richard graduated from Salem High School in 1940. He entered Indiana U as a premed student and was a member of ROTC. He was inducted into the Army in January 1943 at Fort Benjamin Harrison. After receiving instruction at the University of Cincinnati in engineering, he was further trained as an operating room assistant at Danville, Kentucky. He was assigned to a medical unit within the 14th Armored Division, 69th Armored Infantry Battalion, Company C, as a surgical technician medic in the Rhineland in Central Europe. He received the EAME Theater Ribbon with two Bronze Stars, Good Conduct Ribbon, Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, and World War--World War II Victory Medal. He sailed from Camp Shanks, New York, and landed at Marseille, France, in October 1944. From there they proceeded northward through Nice, is it?

Patricia McClain:

Uh-huh.

Virginia Martin:

Nice, Cannes, Peira Cava, and Loski, high in the Maritime Alps. Did I pronounce those right?

Patricia McClain:

I think so. But it doesn't matter.

Virginia Martin:

The medics sweated out casualties and the 88s that came their way. Two medics were killed by snipers while picking up the wounded. Once bullets went between him and another soldier who were close to each other. Another time while riding in half-tracks, bullets went through the knapsack on his back. Richard was wounded when a shrapnel hit his upper right arm during a fierce battle at Oberotterbach, Germany, in December 1944. He refused to leave the battlefield until he was assured that the wounded were safe. Although their duty was to care for their wounded, medics were often called to help local people in the towns they passed through.

Once he helped deliver a baby girl while stationed near Kraiburg, Germany. On July 20, 1945, he hoisted an American flag which he had received from his parents on the aid station in memory of his friend D. Bush who had lost his life in a plane crash. Richard returned to New York in October '45 and walked to the train from Camp Shanks, New York, down the same hill he had walked just one year before when he was headed overseas. After discharge processing at Camp Atterbury, he caught a bus to Scottsburg and from there hitchhiked home. Yeah. Yeah. He had a pretty rough time after--adjusting.

Patricia McClain:

He did?

Virginia Martin:

Adjusting. Right. He couldn't do--he really wasn't able to do much for about a year, kind of get himself together.

Patricia McClain:

And what did he do after that?

Virginia Martin:

Well, later he went into the ministry.

Patricia McClain:

Oh.

Virginia Martin:

Uh-huh. My brother Jonas did the same thing.

Patricia McClain:

Oh, he did? He didn't stay in that school or law school?

Virginia Martin:

No, he didn't. He--I think they both had a big recovery period. That was very difficult, and when they finally physically were able to go, that's what they decided to do. Now, let's see.

Patricia McClain:

David, I think, is--

Virginia Martin:

Oh, yeah. My younger brother, David, shortly after graduating from high school in 1943, was drafted into the United States Navy. He served as radio man in the Pacific Theater from '44 to '46. The good memories of this time include chance meetings with his brother Jonas and with high school buddy Lee "Red" Simpson thousands of miles from home. The bad memories include a dangerous typhoon during which he could see the complete underside of other ships as they rolled from side to side. He was first stationed on the island of Bougainville and then on a patrol gun boat, a converted sub chaser and a part of the Navy's splinter fleet, sturdy and seaworthy, but small wooden boats. He took part in the shelling of Luzon and the invasion of Mindanao. After the war ended, his ship was sent to Shanghai, where the exchange rate was 160,000 yen to one U. S. dollar. His five-dollar exchange had to be stowed in a billfold, shirt, socks, anything that would hold paper.

Patricia McClain:

And what did he do when he came--

Virginia Martin:

Well, he--because of being able--what was it called? The--to go to college.

Patricia McClain:

The GI Bill?

Virginia Martin:

The GI Bill. Because of that, they all received further training in college. And he went to Indiana University and graduated from the School of Business, and he worked ever since, until he retired, for Cummins Diesel in the business offices.

Patricia McClain:

Great.

Virginia Martin:

Which was a very good thing for him. And my older sister, Lucy, Lucy Burphy, graduated from Salem High School with the class of 1938. She was studying in the library at Indiana University when the news of Pearl Harbor was broadcast. Her three brothers were sent in the service, and she was anxious to do her part. After teaching art in Columbus, she was sworn in and received her boot training for the WAVES at Hunter College in New York. It was August 1943. After this naval crash course ended, she was stationed at the hydrographic office in Suitland, Maryland.

Her job was in the lithographing section, making chart corrections on existing sink plates, as well as preparation of new ones. There were times for relaxation as well as work. A group of them even toured the White House in April 1944. They had cake and punch with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who personally welcomed each girl. After the war was over, Lucy was asked to stay on until their former employees returned. In January 1946, she mustered out, grateful for all she had learned and experienced, which was quite an education.

Patricia McClain:

I would think so.

Virginia Martin:

It was. They recently had a film on television which was completely made about the WAVES as--actually as they come on to get girls to join the WAVES, just like they had made for the other services, and we happened to see that, and we'd never seen it before.

Patricia McClain:

Oh.

Virginia Martin:

It was quite interesting.

Patricia McClain:

I imagine.

Virginia Martin:

Showing all their training. Anyway, my husband, Dr. Donald Martin, he volunteered for the naval--Navy Medical Corps in '49 while an intern at Philadelphia General Hospital. In 1950, he went to active duty and was assigned to the naval hospital at Philadelphia. Four months later, he was transferred to the USS Delta AR-9 repair ship in the mothball fleet in Philadelphia as ship doctor. They sailed through the Panama Canal to San Diego and were assigned to repair ships at San Diego.

After six months they got underway for Korea when the ship's main propulsion went bad. It was sent to be repaired at Bremington, Washington, Naval Base. Before the ship sailed to Korea, he was transferred to shore duty as a medical officer at the Long Beach Naval Dispensary. I think he was there five months. In 1952, he was released to civilian life and remained in the naval reserve in Louisville while resident surgeon at the Veterans Hospital. He took residency two years. But it was--it was really a very interesting experience.

Patricia McClain:

Now, did he remain in the service or--

Virginia Martin:

No.

Patricia McClain:

He worked at the Veterans Hospital as a physician?

Virginia Martin:

No, no. We went to the mountains in Kentucky, eastern Kentucky.

Patricia McClain:

Oh.

Virginia Martin:

He went to a small hospital, was there 20 years, and then years in Salem. Or 25 years in Salem.

Patricia McClain:

Now, it seems to me that Mrs. Martin--Mrs. Martin didn't read the history of herself.

Virginia Martin:

Oh, that's right. Well, I--I was at Indiana U as a freshman in--on December the 7th. And we had just sung the--The Messiah, maybe it was. Anyhow, it was with a choir that was sort of a volunteer choir at that time. Anybody could go and do that. And as we came out from that big auditorium, they were telling about it. And, of course, that was quite an experience.

Patricia McClain:

I can imagine.

Virginia Martin:

Yeah.

Patricia McClain:

And then?

Virginia Martin:

Well, of course, I had to graduate from college, and so I did. I majored in English. But I had wanted to be a nurse, and I had a pastor who wanted me to go to Yale. This makes me cry.

Patricia McClain:

When did you and Dr. Martin get married?

Virginia Martin:

We were married in '47, when the girls who went to Yale could get married. And so I was still in the service. I mean, I was still in nurse's training. And from there we went to Philadelphia after I graduated, went to Philadelphia, where he took his internship there. And then later he came to the VA Hospital for surgery, two years of surgery there, before we went to Kentucky. So he was a pretty highly trained person to become a general practitioner. And, anyway, Yale had a wonderful school. You had to be a college graduate before you could go there, but it was a wonderful place, and it was a small--a small class, which I liked very much because IU had been so big.

And I made a lot of friends there. But what they did was put you through, the Cadet Nurse Corps, they all went straight through in two and a half years. So we were on a block system, so that's why I was able to leave. They allowed you to leave for marriage and then come back and finish, which is what I did. And one of my brothers, Richard, came by to see me with his buddy before he went on home, or else he was visiting in Long Island. His friend was from Long Island.

But it was a wonderful education, and I've always felt indebted to the government for that education, and I think that my brothers and all of the people, when you think of all the ones who went through on that GI Bill, it was a godsend, because even though my father was a lawyer, at that time he wouldn't have been able to send six children.

Patricia McClain:

Right.

Virginia Martin:

And lots of people went through that way. They really did. But I think that was one of the greatest things that ever happened in the United States, the people who were well- educated. It made a big difference, I think, in the United States. I really do.

Patricia McClain:

Do you think that the military played a role in the ultimate occupations that were sought by your family?

Virginia Martin:

Well--

Patricia McClain:

You said your--two of your brothers went into the ministry afterwards.

Virginia Martin:

They did.

Patricia McClain:

Do you think that the--their experiences in the military probably is--

Virginia Martin:

Oh, very definitely. You see, Richard was going to be a doctor.

Patricia McClain:

That's--

Virginia Martin:

And he had--when he came home, he said, "Don't even mention medicine to me." And my brother Jonas had been in law school. But he had missed so much college in the war, and his health hadn't been good, that he really--he tried to go back and take the finish of it. It was very difficult for him. And he had influence of his wife's father, was highly influential in his decision to go into the ministry. And I know that my brother Richard, his war experience was--was pretty traumatic emotionally. And I really think that was why he--he wanted to. So they both went to the Butler School of Religion. They went at the same time. They went up there at the same time. Yeah.

Patricia McClain:

How did your mother handle with so many of the boys in service?

Virginia Martin:

Well, it was difficult on both of my parents, and being a strong Christian woman in her faith, she--you know, she never--she prayed for all, all of them, she really did, for everybody. And she never felt that she could ask favors that other people couldn't have. But for some reason, it was amazing that they all--

Patricia McClain:

Yeah, that was wonderful, that they all came home and they all--

Virginia Martin:

It was.

Patricia McClain:

-- did well. Alive.

Virginia Martin:

That's right. That's right. Because all three of the boys were in--in danger. They all three were. Now, David, see, he was just out of high school, and he lost all of his hair, every bit of it. You know, he was bald when he came home, and he was just 18 when he went. They all paid a price. Sure they did. Lucy, the girl, probably benefited the most, and I did. She was good in art, and she really enjoyed that work, and it was a real education.

Patricia McClain:

It really was.

Virginia Martin:

But she had a good time doing it. I think that's true of all the service people, that they received a lot of education, that because--I know in my high school class, graduating class, I was amazed at the 25th anniversary, was the first time we really got together. I was amazed at how many of the boys in my class had learned their profession or their way of making a living by the skills that they learned in the services, without any doubt. Because many of those boys were farm boys who had grown up and would have been farmers, probably, and they really learned some wonderful skills in the services. They surely did, many of them, and became very successful people. And that was something I didn't realize until we had that 25th.

Patricia McClain:

That's interesting.

Virginia Martin:

It is. But it's something that you don't think about either. I wasn't particularly interested in getting together with the 25th class. It's sort of fun. But it was really an education to see where they--the paths that they had taken.

Patricia McClain:

You're saying, though, that you were quite a partner with your husband.

Virginia Martin:

Well, that's true, although we--we just met in Salem, you know. But I think that it helped me to be a more understanding person. A lot of doctors' wives have a rough time adjusting, and a nurse, you understand why your husband has to go. And when you understand why, you have an appreciation for it. So many doctors' wives have a rough time psychologically because they don't understand. You know, you can be ready to go out for going to something special, and when there's an emergency, you don't go. You stay home. That's just the way it is. But I always--that was never any problem for me, and I'm sure because of my training. I'm sure of that. But when there's an emergency, they have to go. That's just part of it.

Patricia McClain:

And emergencies come, two weeks later--I've had a cold for two weeks, I'm going to call you at three in the morning and help myself?

Virginia Martin:

Yeah. Well, that's about it, I guess.

Patricia McClain:

We really appreciate your coming in and telling us about your wonderful family and the time that you took to do that.

Virginia Martin:

Thank you.

[Conclusion of Interview]

 
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