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‘It’s Our Honor’: Tallahassee Korean War vet remembers the ‘forgotten war’

Leonard Martin, 89, was deployed so quickly that he was not able to go to boot camp.
Leonard Martin, 89, was deployed to North Korea so quickly in 1950, he did not even get a chance to boot camp.
Published: Apr. 8, 2022 at 8:50 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The conflict between North and South Korea came to a head in the Summer of 1950 and within a three-year span, most of the world’s most powerful nations were involved in the conflict.

The war was short-lived but lives on in the minds of those who supported it through military service.

One particular Korean War veteran who now lives in Tallahassee recently recalled how quickly his life changed forever after America was forced to jump into action to defend its United Nations ally in the South.

The memorial is located in Tallahassee's beautiful Cascades Park.
The memorial is located in Tallahassee's beautiful Cascades Park.(WCTV)

“This is where I came into Korea, in Wonsan. That’s in North Korea,” said 89-year-old Leonard Martin, as he walked around the Korean War Memorial in Cascades Park.

“I turned 18 on July 24. Two weeks later they activated my unit. Seven weeks later, I was on the ship going overseas.”

The war, which was fought more than 70 years ago, is still fresh in his mind. Martin can recall the names of foreign cities, fellow comrades, and dates in detail.

“I think about it all the time,” he told WCTV’s Katie Kaplan. “I’ve seen a lot of things that most people don’t see, or haven’t seen, or shouldn’t see.”

Martin said he enlisted in the Marine Corp Reserves when he was just 17 and a senior in high school. By the time the Summer rolled around, his reserve unit was activated to help create a complete combat division for the U.S. Military, which saw declining numbers after World War II. He did not even have time to complete boot camp.

Circa 1950 in Korea
Circa 1950 in Korea(WCTV)

The war unfolded so quickly, he said, that many of his friends back home did not know where he had gone when he disappeared for a year and a half. A good example of why it has been nicknamed ‘the forgotten war.’

“I had some friends that said, ‘Where you been? We haven’t seen you,’” he recalled. “People don’t think about it. They don’t talk about it. A lot of people don’t even know what it was.”

Shortly after he was deployed, Martin found himself braving frigid nights while standing guard at a machine gun outpost.

“It was cold, 20 to 20 degrees below zero,” he said of the experience which has left him with lingering issues that are now treated at the local VA.

Martin was assigned to a specialized platoon that had flame-throwing tanks, an experience cataloged in a book written by a fellow Marine called, ‘Hearts of Iron.’ Martin, who eventually worked his way up to tank commander and then sergeant, is featured throughout.

Circa 1950 during the Korean War
Circa 1950 during the Korean War(WCTV)

The book, as well as the large, local memorial, “bring back memories” for Martin who said he was surprised at how nice it was when he first discovered it on Christmas Day a couple of years ago.

In the decades that have passed since his time serving, he said he has had a nice life. He met his soul mate, Kathleen. They have been married for more than 65 years.

“I feel like I was there at times,” Kathleen said, through laughter. “He remembers everything about the war, but he can’t remember what he did yesterday.”

Together the couple raised four children. Their only daughter, Lynn Diemer has been influenced by her father’s war experience her entire life.

“I’ve grown up listening to his war stories,” Diemer said.

She now works for Tallahassee National Cemetery giving back to Veterans like her dad.

“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she said.

In 2021, Governor Ron Desantis declared June 25 ‘Korean War Remembrance as Day’ in Florida.

This story is the second installment of WCTV’s ‘It’s Our Honor’ series, which is airing in advance of a live broadcast from Washington, D.C., on Monday, April 25 at 4 p.m.

Watch the first installment: ‘It’s Our Honor’: Valor Team gives terminal veterans final salute

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