Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My friend Ernie, the hero . . .

Everybody knows Ernie Martinez.

You may not know him, but you know a guy just like him.

That guy has a quick smile and an even quicker wit. You know he likes you,
because he needles you. But when you need him, he’s there in a heartbeat for as
long as you need him.

The other thing you need to know about “my” buddy Ernie is that he’s a certified

He’s got a Silver Star commendation from Vietnam that says that. His Bronze Star
says the same thing, and his Purple Heart backs it up.

Ernie is a lot like many of the Vietnam vets we all know. He doesn’t talk about it
much, but when he does, there’s a lot of pain and bitterness, especially about how
he was treated when he got back.

The treatment of his awards, which were given to him while he was still in
Vietnam, has always been a dull ache, too.

Let him tell you about it.

“Back in 1968 I was awarded the Silver Star . . . but I was never officially
presented with the award, it was tossed over my shoulder as we were preparing
to move out on a mission. I had to fly to division HQ and prove that I'd earned a
Purple Heart for being wounded in combat even though I'd spent three months in the hospital recovering from the wounds I received in the engagement for which I'd been given my Silver Star. I received my Bronze Star in the back of a jeep as I was leaving my base camp to head to Saigon as I was leaving Vietnam to come home.”

Ernie came back, married a woman he loved and had a full life and career. He
makes friends easily and inspires intense loyalty.

Eighteen years ago, that loyalty was at play when a group of folks he’d met and
bonded with through an Internet site – back in the early days before Facebook
make such things easy – visited his house in Danbury, Conn., for a picnic and put
together their own ceremony for him.

And in the SCA
That was about the time I started to get to know him, through the Society for
Creative Anachronism, an international group of folks whose idea of a good time
is to spend weekends dressing up in Medieval clothes and taking part in medieval

If you’re in the SCA, you known Baron Ernst. If you don’t know him, you know
someone just like him

Ernst is one of those guys who make things go. He doesn’t put on armor and fight.
He’s not a cook or an artisan, but when the king needs someone to speak for him,
it’s Ernst’s voice we hear. When people need motivating, he’s there with a verbal
push. When things simply need doing, he does them.

Ernie’s a man still in love with his “bride” decades after the fact and the kind of
guy you have to love, even if he’s a Yankee fan.

Thinking about Ernie
Ernie comes into my mind a lot, especially around Memorial Day and Veterans

He’ll certainly be in my mind on Memorial Day afternoon, but this time for a
really special, positive, reason.

At 2 p.m. this Memorial Day, at the Purple Heart Hall of Honor near West Point,
N.Y., my friend Ernie will – more than 40 years later – be officially awarded the
medals he earned defending our country.

In the commendation for his Silver Star – the third-highest award for valor in
combat – the Army tells the story of what Ernie did on the morning of Feb. 10,
1968, during the Tet Offensive:

“With complete disregard for his own personal safety, Specialist Martinez braved intense mortar, rocket and small arms fire to run 200 meters to the base camp’s aid station, secure a medical kit and run to the scene of the heaviest fighting. There he moved from bunker to bunker, treating the most serious wounds of his injured comrades. Although blown off his feet and wounded by the blast of an exploding enemy rocket, Specialist Martinez continued to administer aid to the casualties until ordered to seek attention for his own wounds an hour and a half later.

“Specialist Five Martinez’s extraordinary heroism in close combat against a Viet Cong force is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 9th Infantry Division and the United States Army.”

Monday, he will officially receive that medal in a formal ceremony.

You know Ernie Martinez, and you know just how much this means to him.