War Stories

War Stories

Bob Martin led a very interesting life even before starting Martin Microscope Company. His WWII experiences were particularly fascinating. He loved to tell stories about his experiences in Cairo , but as far as I know, he never wrote any of them down. So, in an effort to preserve the stories and photos, here’s more on the war years.

After completing optics training at Aberdeen Proving Ground, my father was given leave to visit his home in Easley before being shipped out to Cairo. When he returned from leave, he found that the men assigned to accompany him had already left onboard ship, and that somehow his being on leave had been overlooked and he was presumed to be on board with his men. So, the Army gave him vouchers for civilian airlines and told him to report to Cairo ASAP; to get there the best way he could. His route took him first south to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon where he waited for several weeks for a flight across the Atlantic to Africa . During his time there he bought a pet monkey that soon bit him and ran off into the rainforest. A local told him that the monkey was probably trained to do that and would likely be sold over and over to unsuspecting foreigners.

Eventually, Bob got a flight to the Canary Islands and on to West Africa. From there, he hitchhiked across equatorial Africa hopping on small planes from one landing strip to the next carved out of the jungle. At one stop, a young lion bounded up to greet him on the runway which gave him quite a scare, again to the amusement of the locals to whom the lion was well known. After about six months, he finally reached Cairo, and immediately fell deathly ill. He recalled an army nurse to whom he felt particularly indebted. The illness lasted another few weeks, but finally Bob Martin was reunited with his men and began turning out optics.

Cairo was heavily British in 1942 when Bob arrived on the scene, and he found that his rank of Lieutenant did not gain him the respect he needed among the British officers with whom he had to deal. So, he was given the rank of Captain which put him on a more equal footing with the British officers.

Bob Martin was fortunate and actually enjoyed his war years. Being an expert marksman, he taught soldiers sharp shooting, taught British troops how to drive jeeps in the desert, and conducted tours of the pyramids to visiting dignitaries on occasion. Some of the snipers he trained invited him to come along with them on raids in the Mediterranean Isles, but he declined saying that his orders did not require him to venture into combat and he preferred to stay right where he was. He became a member of the local Swiss Club where he enjoyed tennis and shooting. I have a letter that he sent home to his mother asking her to send a particular model of tennis racket and new tennis balls. I believe it was at the Swiss Club that Bob was introduced to King Farouk of Egypt who was also a shooting enthusiast. I once asked him what King Farouk was like, and he told me that he didn’t know the king well, but that he didn’t like the way Farouk treated women. Bob also mentioned occasionally taking his own dates to the royal palace for dinner. He said Farouk fed large numbers of VIP’s in the palace routinely, but rarely put in a personal appearance. Still, Bob’s dates must have been impressed with the “royal treatment.” Egyptian men in general were permitted to have up to five wives, and Bob loved to tell the story of Fousi, an Egyptian man of his acquaintance. He would ask Fousi how many wives he had, and Fousi would always answer, “Fousi has one wife – one too many!”

Bob said that when he took a taxi in Cairo , he would place his side arm on the seat beside him, just to form an understanding with the driver. Unarmed Americans would often be driven to back alleys and robbed. At some point, Bob had bodyguards assigned to protect him when he ventured into Cairo . These were four Gurkhas from Nepal , and Bob described them as short but broad, and the toughest men he’d ever seen. When he walked down the streets with these bodyguards, two in front and two behind, they cut a wide swath through the crowded streets. Bob brought a Gurkha knife back from the war, which is quite a wicked looking weapon.

Bob’s favorite rifle was the 30-06, and he won numerous competitions with these both before the war at the National Matches in Aberdeen, and during his time in Cairo. He led the American team in an International Rifle Shooting Competition in March of 1945 where he was awarded a silver cigarette case personally for his high score of 181, and a silver cup on behalf of his winning team. (Easley Progress newspaper article from 1945). I recently found the accompanying photos of him receiving these awards and shaking hands with King Farouk. I have found the silver case in his personal collection, but not the cup.

After Italy was securely in Allied hands, Bob Martin visited Rome once on leave where he and a buddy had another interesting experience. They were exploring the Vatican, and at that time it was not crowded by tourists as it is today, when a priest approached them and asked if they would like to have an audience with the Pope. My father told the priest that he and his friend were not Catholic, but they were assured that the Pope would meet them anyway. Bob didn’t recall much about that meeting. He didn’t even remember which Pope it was. I seem to remember him saying that the Pope spoke little English and the audience was brief. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any photos of that experience.

On his return flight to the US from Egypt on a four engine plane, one of the engines stopped working. The pilot assured the soldiers that the plane could still make it on three engines, but then a second engine went out. The plane dropped a bit lower. Then, the third engine quit, and Bob was getting very nervous to say the least. Bob recalled that with one engine left and the plane virtually skimming the ocean, they made an emergency landing at Bermuda. From there, he had an uneventful flight home, but after that harrowing experience, Bob Martin refused to fly on a plane again for the next 48 years! Finally, in 1993, I convinced him to fly with me to Tucson to visit a friend / customer of his who had moved from Duke to the University of Arizona. He was amazed at how far air travel had come since WWII!

Bob Martin remained in the Army Reserve until he retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel.