‘Double lucky’ WWII veteran turns 103

Published 4:03 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

By Jake Moore, Bowling Green Daily News

For nearly 75 years, Bowling Green native Elmo Martin has enjoyed a nightcap consisting of a shot of whiskey and a Miller High Life.

“Doctors want to know which beer I drink,” the World War II veteran shared with the Daily News on Tuesday as he celebrated his 103rd birthday at Mission BBQ, flanked by friends and family.

Martin chalked his longevity up to good fortune.

“I’m a lucky man,” he said. “Lucky in life, lucky in the war, lucky in love and double lucky living through the Battle of the Bulge.”

Born in Bowling Green in 1920, Martin spent a good portion of his upbringing on a Butler County farm before joining the Army in 1942. He served as a staff sergeant in the 99th infantry division, fighting the Germans in the snowy Ardennes forests of Belgium in the winter of 1944-45.

“It was terrible, to put it mildly,” Martin said about his experience on the Western Front. “The snow and cold and the surprise attacks.”

He said he wasn’t scared when the war started, but his tune soon changed after he saw combat.

“We lost 32 of our men the first day,” Martin recalled. “I was in the foxhole with one of my friends that was dead. One of them got killed with shrapnel in the same hole I was in, and I said ‘that’s something to be scared about.’ “

While he survived the crucial battle, he had his share of close calls.

He remembers a time his men were rigging a fragmentation grenade to a tree to be set off by the unsuspecting enemy.

“You’ll never guess who tripped it – I did,” Martin said. “It blew the tree down and I had to roll to keep the tree from falling on me.”

He remembers another incident where a fellow infantryman called out to Martin, exclaiming that his leg was just blown off by gunfire. As it turned out, the young man was carrying a wooden spoon with him, and the instrument must have “smacked him in the butt” when hit.

Martin said the “thing that bothered me the most” about his frosty time in Belgium is that “I wouldn’t be buried back in Bowling Green where I was born.”

Following the war, the Kentuckian returned to the states to his wife, Ruth Louise Benson. The pair had four children and Martin enjoyed a lengthy career in sales that ran into his late 80s.

Not one to stay idle, Martin penned a book titled “Butler County Memories” in 2020 in an effort to compile cherished vignettes from his boyhood years.

“I got a memory that don’t give up,” Martin said when asked why he’s driven to write. “I can remember just about everything that happened to me in my life.”

Granddaughter Noel Haggan said Martin has lived a life of “consistency and determination,” waking at the same time, breaking for coffee at the same time and eating meals at the same time each day.

“When he makes up his mind about something, it’s made,” Haggan said. “That’s it.”

She said her grandfather is a funny man, and he often jokes that the reason he’s lived so long is because “God and the devil haven’t decided who’s going to get him yet.”

“He says ‘they’re fighting over me,’ “ Haggan said.

Martin’s plans for his 103rd trip around the sun include finishing a second book, tentatively titled “Kentucky: The Sweet and Bitter Land.”

Haggan said it will illustrate the hardships of growing up in Kentucky, but also include the sweetness of the bluegrass and how the state shaped Martin into a man.

Haggan and Martin are kept busy traveling around Kentucky for research purposes.

“He makes me take him on all these road trips, ‘got to go here, got to take a picture,’ “ Haggan said. “His mind is there.”

Martin’s words of advice to younger generations is to “always be honest.”

“And never have too many friends that you can afford to lose one,” he said.