By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Roland Martin wasn't trained to fight German troops from a foxhole, nor was he ready to fend off one of the largest offensives launched against Western allies in Europe in World War II.
But on Dec. 16, 1944, Martin was on the front line when Nazi troops began what would later be called the Battle of the Bulge.
"I remember it was 5:30 a.m. when the bulge came through," Martin, 79, said yesterday from his home in Crescent City. "Suddenly the ground started shaking. We said Is that an earthquake?' But it was 200,000 men and an 80-mile front."
Martin and the rest of his C Troop, a mechanized unit, were not trained to shoulder a rifle in battle.
"(General) Bradley said there was a division up there on the Roer River for three or four weeks and they needed some rest. So we were told to get up there and be doughboys in the foxholes," Martin said. "We told them We aren't doughboys. We're mechanized cavalry.' They said You're doughboys now.'"
Soldiers with C Troop didn't realize they would shortly be in the middle of a fierce battle.
Martin was born in Van Buren, Maine on Jan. 29, 1924. After enlisting in the army in 1944, he was initially to be trained in the horse cavalry in Texas, but instead was shipped to Yuma, Ariz. to join the mechanized cavalry.
His first tour of duty took him no further than the shores of Florida.
"That's when the Germans had their submarines popping up and down off the coast with their saboteurs. We caught eight or nine guys one time in their pontoon," Martin said. The saboteurs were German nationals who were trained to blend into American society and blow up military targets in the United States.
The coastline C Troop patrolled stretched from Pensacola to Key West. "People were out there swimming during the day, but after sunset they had to move one mile inland from the beach," he said. "That duty didn't last too long though. It was too good."
From there, Martin's unit was shipped to Scotland, and then to South Hampton, England, in preparation for duty in Europe. His unit was 30 miles north of France when he saw his first skirmishes.
"We were pretty much in Belgium and the Netherlands at the time," he said. "The townspeople put us up in their homes so we could get a shower and clean clothes."
The Battle of the Bulge, which lasted approximately three or four weeks, occurred shortly after Martin and the rest of his troop crossed the Roer River into Germany. It was the largest offensive the Germans launched against western allies.
"We were green straight out of high school and we were replacing seasoned troops ... it got tough there for a while," he said.
Surprisingly, Martin said he had a few run-ins with his British allies as well.
"When we went to the bars, they would say things like What are you American gangsters doing over here?' Things like that. When things got a little heated, it was always the Canadians and us against them," he said.
Following the Bulge, Martin's unit spent most of its time in front of the line in German-controlled territory doing reconnaissance.
"Bradley and his 9th Army (Division) wanted to know what was up ahead, so we were doing the reconnaissance. We'd catch a couple of prisoners and bring them back, where they'd be pumped for information," Martin said.
C Troop began a long march toward Berlin, stopping at several smaller German towns and battling the enemy most of the time.
"It was in Hannover that I got hit," he said. "It was 11 p.m. and we were on the Ricklingen Bridge. They were firing and I got hit in the leg. I still have a piece of shrapnel in there."
After spending a few weeks in a hospital in Antwerp, Belgium, Martin returned to C Troop in time to reach the Elbe River.
"We were close to Berlin. There were two bridges there that were blown up on the Elbe. We had planned to use pontoons to cross the river in the morning and set out for Berlin. We would have been there by afternoon." he said.
But the Yalta meeting between the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union halted Martin's trip to Berlin.
"We were all ready to go when the message came in: Stop right there. Let the Russians take Berlin.' We could have been there in a few hours. Instead, it took two weeks for the Russians to finally meet us," he said.
"We met the Russians and had a vodka party with them. We got a little sloshed," he said.
Before Martin could be discharged and return home, he served as a military policeman in Nuremberg, Germany, during the famous war-crime trials.
After many years owning and operating campgrounds, Martin and his wife retired in Crescent City in 1976. His daughter is married and lives in Del Norte County, and his son lives in Santa Ana, Calif.