Ray Martini: Honorable to the end

May 2014

Ray Martini didn’t think he would make it through the Invasion of Normandy by Allied forces during World War II. But he survived those D-Day missions, two of the 50 he flew during the war.

Today at age 93, he is honored by his country and by the French, who awarded him the Legion of Honor Medal in 2011. Deputy Consul General Corinne Pereira quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the presentation when she said:

“You are the symbol of the America we love; the America that defends the highest spiritual and moral values; the America that fights for liberty, democracy and human rights: open, tolerant, and generous America.”

A member of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation,” Martini was born in 1920 in San Francisco and grew up in Moss Beach, where his father farmed Brussels sprouts and ran a public hall that hosted all kinds of events, including indoor roller skating. Having heard that plumbers made the astounding sum of $12 a day, Martini was two years into an apprenticeship program when Japan attacked Hawaii and the U.S. entered the war.

When he turned 21 later that month, he joined a friend taking the test to enter the U.S. Air Corps. His friend failed the test, but Martini passed. He enlisted the following February and was sent to England for training and later flew missions over France and Germany. He recalls in a video on YouTube (http://bit.ly/1gxJux0) that he was shot at 35 times and walked away from a crash landing in England. Of the 27 men he trained with, he was one of only nine to make it back from the War, returning to the U.S. in 1944. He left active duty in 1945, after turning down a promotion that would have required another 20 missions.

“I told them I’d rather go home alive as a captain than as a major in a coffin,” he said. Then he got on with his life, working as a plumber on the San Mateo Coast and operating plumbing businesses. He has a son, Mark, who has compiled his father’s wartime photos and letters into a book.

He was a widower when he married his second wife Cathy, in 1977. Now 92, she recalls that she wasn’t looking to get married again after she was widowed. “You have a good guy once, why look for another?” she recalls thinking. But one day Ray came into the bank where she was working and asked for a date. She agreed – and they were married a couple of years later.

“I’m a strong blooded Irishwoman and he’s a bull-headed Italian,” she says. “He’s what the Italians call testa dura (hard-headed).”

Now, Ray Martini’s time is drawing to a close under the care of his wife, friends, a live-in caregiver and Mission Hospice & Home Care. His friend and Mission Hospice volunteer Bob Lindberg recommended they join the program as it became increasingly difficult to get Ray to medical appointments. Cathy Martini says it’s tough to need outside help and to let strangers into her home, but it means that Ray doesn’t have to be in a nursing home.

Caregiver Saane “Nonie” Schaaf appreciates that Mission Hospice staff is always available when she needs them.

“They come right away,” she said. “When I first learned about hospice, I thought it was something to get people ready to die. Now, I know it’s about helping people live.”

Ray died peacefully on March 9 in his home in Half Moon Bay, shortly after this article was written.