Merced County Times Newspaper
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Times Photo by Brittany Miller

92-year-old Air Force vet honored as grand marshal


Don Martin has been selected as this year’s grand marshal for the Atwater Fourth of July Parade.
Don Martin has been selected as this year’s grand marshal for the Atwater Fourth of July Parade.

Atwater resident Don Martin has been declared the grand marshal for the 61st annual Fourth of July Parade in Atwater. At 92 years old, Martin’s dedication to his community and the country earned him the place of honor in the parade.

Martin grew up in Massachusetts, and joined the Air Force in 1949, at the age of 18. He had originally approached the Army, but was persuaded to join the Air Force because of his high test scores.

His time in service had him stationed as close as Travis Air Force Base in California, and as far away as England and Germany. He had a successful career in the Air Force, retiring from his position as logistics superintendent in 1971 with a rank of senior master sergeant.

His adventures provided him many once in a lifetime experiences, including being given Winston Churchill’s signature “V” for victory at a rare sighting of the Prime Minister in London, and waving to John F. Kennedy as he left by train from a campaign stop.

While he’s happy to reminisce about his time in service, for Martin, all roads lead back to the love of his life, Nola.

“I met my bride at Roswell, New Mexico, which was my first duty station after basic training,” he told the Times. “After three dates, I asked her to marry me. We were 18 years old. And she said yes. Everyone thought we were too young. Nat King Cole recorded a song that year called ‘Too Young,’ so that became our song.”

Together, Nola and Don had three children and a full life. After leaving the Air Force, they relocated to Merced County, where Don worked for the Merced County Housing Authority for 17 years, ultimately reaching the role of deputy director. He followed it with another 10 years as an administrative hearing officer.

The Martin’s relocated to Nevada for a time, until Nola began to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s. They moved back to Merced County in 2014, and Nola passed away the following year.

During her life, Nola had been a prolific poet, writing hundreds of poems with spiritual themes. A book of her poetry was created following her passing. Don also gave talks, alongside a friend who was also a retired physician, to inform the public about the disease.

Don Martin’s endeavors have left little time for idle hands. He has been a volunteer with the Atwater Police Department since 2014, and has been a deacon at First Baptist Church in Merced. As he moves forward his next plan is to publish a book, all while maintaining his pen ministry.

Despite it all, Martin said being selected as Grand Marshal was unexpected.

“When they announced that I was gonna be the Grand Marshal, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, did you check with the other 30 thousand people before me? And they all refused?’” he said with his characteristic humility and a laugh. “I was really surprised.”

The surprise does not extend to those who know Martin well.

“Don is very patriotic, he believes in the country, and of course, he was in the Air Force for many years,” said Robin Shepard, a longtime friend and honorary nephew. “He’s one of those guys who loves the country, salutes the flag, and even at his age he volunteers because he wants to contribute to his community. I believe he’ll do it until he no longer can. I think honoring him is sort of symbolic of honoring all veterans.”

Don Martin’s life is above all else a story of love and faith.

His actions are often based around the singular goal of putting a smile on one’s face.

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