Manuel Oliver Martinez

Manuel Oliver Martinez

CAÑON — Manuel Oliver Martinez, 88, died Thursday, October 22nd  while living at the Gladwell Menifee Valley Assisted Living Facility in Sun City, California.

He was born July 28th 1932 in Cañon (near Antonito), Conejos County, Colorado, the son of Jose Manuel Martinez and Velma Marie Gonzales. 

Manuel joined the Marine Corps in 1953 after college and was selected for flight training.  In 1955 he was awarded his flight wings, flying propeller attack bombers and fighter jets for six years before being selected for helicopter training.  Manuel deployed to Viet Nam from May 1965 to May 1966, and again from July 1969 to July 1970.  During this period, he flew over 220 combat missions under fire, was shot down three times and earned 12 Air Medals and the Silver Star for gallantry.

On 18 September 1965, the 101st Army Airborne Division conducted an air assault mission against a Viet Cong (VC) strong hold in the Binh Dinh Province of Viet Nam (Operation Gibraltar).  The first two waves of the air assault insertion (a company and a half of infantry) were inadvertently dropped on top of the main VC force.  In the first few moments of the landing, 13 troopers and all the officers were killed and 44 were wounded.  Despite several attempts by the 101st to extract their initial force their attempts were repelled by heavy machine gun fire.   Two helicopters and crew were lost in this effort. 

Marine Corps Captain Manuel O. Martinez, Commander of the Marine Corps HMM-161 detachment, was in a supporting role for this operation.  His seven UH-34D Helicopters were tasked to transport follow-on forces for the assault.  Upon hearing that the operation went wrong and of the failed attempts from the 101st to extract their personnel, Martinez landed nearby and discharged his passengers, then flew into the enemy fire to save the pinned down 101st troopers.  A total of 58 enemy rounds struck his helicopter and after saving what was left of the assault force, only six of his seven helicopters were able to make it to a nearby village before they crash landed.  One was lost in the rescue attempt.

For his actions, Captain Manuel O. Martinez was awarded the Silver Star for bravery.

In 1966, after his first tour in Viet Nam, Manuel was selected to be the Presidential Command Pilot for President Lyndon B. Johnson.  He flew the Presidential Helicopter for three years.  This airframe was designated “Marine 1” or “The White-Top.”  When Mr. Nixon was elected, he was sent to New York City to fly the President-elect on his many trips prior to inauguration. 

Manuel is preceded in death by his parents, Jose Manuel and Velma Martinez of Antonito, Colorado. 

Manuel is survived by is wife of 41 years, Joyce Eileen Madeley.  He is also survived by four sons and one daughter: Christopher Martinez (Ellen) of Land O’ Lakes, Florida; Mark Martinez (Jeanne) of Lowemont, Kansas; Michael Martinez (Ingrith) of Gainsville, Florida; Joe Martinez (Michelle) of Sun City, California and Patrice Neaves (Jeff) of Duluth, Georgia.   He is also survived by five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. 

Manuel will be buried in the Riverside National Cemetery, in Riverside, California.