As the morning sun cast its rays down upon the upper Presidio of Monterey, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center hosted a poignant Veterans Day observance on November 9. Distinguished guests, veterans, active-duty military, staff and students were among the diverse gathering of individuals who attended the event.
“You have helped keep our country and its citizens safe, free from terror and harm,” expressed DLIFLC Commandant Col. James A. Kievit to the attendees. “Veterans have dedicated themselves to the defense of our country and that resolve has made us stronger and more resilient as a nation.”
The guest of honor, retired Army Captain Roland Martin knows something about resolve and was pleased to recant his time serving during WWII.
At the tender age of 19, Martin embarked on a remarkable journey into the skies. His ambition transcended the role of a mere pilot; he aspired to be at the helm of a B-17 Flying Fortress, the formidable and infamous bomber. In pursuit of this dream, he piloted his ship, the “Iron Maiden,” on nine triumphant sorties. However, destiny took a very different turn on his tenth mission as flak from German “88” anti-aircraft guns forced his ship to crash deep within enemy territory near Schweinfurt.
“My plane turned into a glider with all the aspects of a brick,” chuckled Martin.
He and his top turret gunner were on the run; using the landscape for cover as they tried to reach the safety of Switzerland.
However, after two weeks the men were captured by a local family and turned over to the German military. The two men were quickly processed, being segregated into officer and enlisted personnel camps. Martin found himself housed in Stalag Luft 1, a prisoner of war camp on the Baltic Sea, approximately two miles to the northwest of Barth, Germany. There, with fellow officers who had been apprehended during the conflict, he was confined for the duration of the war.
“There were 8,000 prisoners there and only 1,800 of them were British. The rest were Americans. I was there for 20 months,” recalled Martin.
The ceremony took place in the central courtyard of DLIFLC, offering a view of the Berlin Wall memorial, which consists of three distinct sections that had once separated East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Among the attendees were prominent members of the local community, service commanders representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard as well as approximately 25 students from Carmel River Elementary School.
“It became a journey I did not complete. I’m one of the fortunate few left who are still able to stand here in front of you,” expressed Martin. “Thank you for having me here today.”
DLIFLC provides resident instruction in 13 languages at the Presidio of Monterey, California, with the capacity to instruct another 65 languages in Washington, D.C. The Institute has graduated more than 230,000 linguists since 1941.