Over the Hill

San Miguel Marine a true warrior

Retired Marine Master Sgt. Joe Martinez fought in two wars and was wounded four times. His souvenirs include shrapnel in his body and a metal plate in his head. He’s a warrior.

But he once was a boy living in San Miguel. He remembers a steep hillside there with tall grass growing on it. He remembers the fun he had sliding down that hill, sometimes on a big sheet of cardboard or other times on an old tire.

He was born June 9, 1932, in his family’s rented house in San Miguel. He was the third of eight children, and the first boy. All eight were delivered at home by Dr. Gifford L. Sobey of Paso Robles.

Not long after Joe’s birth the family moved to a railroad house near the tracks. His father worked on the railroad. The house was a remodeled railroad passenger car. “Straight in and straight out” was the way Joe described his home.

He attended the old brick San Miguel Elementary School that stood where the freeway and county park are now. One of the teachers was Lillian Larsen. The present San Miguel school is named after her.

He was nine years old when Camp Roberts first opened almost on the outskirts of San Miguel. Soon he and other San Miguel boys were going to the camp to sell newspapers and shine soldiers’ boots and shoes.

Ben Franklin Thompson had the news agency in San Miguel. He drove the boys to the camp early each morning. Then he brought them back in time for school. After school he returned them to camp to sell the evening editions. They stayed there until six or seven p.m.

Joe Martinez said the cooks at some mess halls sometimes fixed him a plate of food.

The boys also carried shoeshine boxes. He said they charged 10 or 15 cents to shine a soldier’s boots or dress shoes. He gave money to his mother. “It was hard times,” he said. “Still we made them good.”

When he grew a little older he worked weekends and summers for Bun Turnbow, a local contractor, who taught him the plumbing trade. He also worked for each of San Miguel’s four gas stations. And while still going to Paso Robles High School he joined the local National Guard company.

Then in June 1950 he graduated from high school; he joined the Marines; and the Korean War started.

I’ll recount more of Master Sgt. Joe Martinez’s very full life either in next week’s column or the following one.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.