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Vietnam vet ‘Gabby’ Martinez laid to rest in emotional memorial service

Army National Guard Honor Guard officers extend full military honors. [MELODY BURRI/FOR MESSENGER POST MEDIA]

Angie Belden’s tears fell onto a folded American flag as her father, Army veteran Gavino “Gabby” Martinez Jr. was given full military honors at Victor Valley Memorial Park and Mortuary.

“This is where my dad grew up and where his friends live,” Belden told the Daily Press during Tuesday’s memorial service. “He’s home with his father now.”

A 1964 graduate of Victor Valley High School and Vietnam veteran, Martinez, 72, died on July 16, 2018, in Tucson, Arizona.

Martinez was buried in Tucson without military honors, about a month later.

Approximately 40 family, friends and veterans were present as a small portion of Martinez’s ashes were buried next to his father, Gavino Martinez Sr., who worked for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

The headstone of the eldest Martinez, who died in 1992, includes the image of a Santa Fe train engine. Fours after his death, the railway became Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway — BNSF.

Belden and her family wept as the Memorial Honor Detail from Riverside National Cemetery played “Taps” and conducted a flag ceremony.

As the flag was folded, a veteran standing near members of the Vietnam Veterans Legacy motorcycle club whispered, “Farewell my brother.”

Gabby Martinez’s headstone includes his name, April 1946 to July 2018, the image of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a Freemason symbol and the words, “One of a kind.”

Before the flag ceremony, Vietnam veteran and author Manuel F. Martinez Jr., 73, delivered a eulogy, which included several stories about his late friend and classmate.

“I’m standing here today because of Gabby and the 25th Artillery Division who cleared the way for us in the First Infantry Division,” Manuel Martinez said. “If it wasn’t for Gabby and his men, the infantry would be dead.”

Manuel Martinez also shared stories about his friend’s interest in pretty girls, his motorcycle, being drafted into the Army together in March 1966 and the two seeing combat in a major battle called Operation Attleboro.

He also shared a story about losing quickly to a fellow soldier during a hand-to-hand combat training drill with a pugil stick.

“He was like 6-feet 2-inches, but Gabby challenged the guy,” Manuel Martinez said. “After two minutes, it was declared a draw and the drill sergeant kept yelling, ‘Do you see what he did? He never gave up!'”

While in Yokohama, Japan for a bit of rest and recuperation, both men were extremely quiet after they visited a military hospital where severely injured soldiers were being treated.

“There’s something about seeing dead bodies scattered on a field and wounded soldiers without arms and legs in a hospital that will shake you to your core,” Manuel Martinez said. “After that, Gabby didn’t say much.”

During his message, Manuel Martinez showed a photo of Gabby Martinez that was featured in his book, “Don’t Let Me Die Lieutenant, Don’t Let Me Die: Life and Love After Vietnam.”

Paul Martinez Jr., 58, of Los Angeles, thanked visiting veterans for bringing his uncle Gabby “home” from war-torn Vietnam.

“As a little kid, I remember my uncle being so joyful and full of life. But when he came home from Vietnam, he was a different man,” Paul Martinez Jr. said. “That’s when I began to learn about the courage and bravery displayed by all who served in Vietnam.”

Army veteran Johnny Varela, 73, who also grew up and served with Gabby Martinez, thanked the audience for paying tribute to his friend.

“Gabby Martinez was a good man who deserved a hero’s welcome and farewell,” Varela said. “I’m glad he’s back home with us now.”


© 2020 Daily Press