By MIKE NOLAN
With people filling a room at Olympia Fields Village Hall for a ceremony naming that suburb’s post office in honor of her late father, Gabrielle Martin said her dad would have been surprised at “all the fuss.”
A member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who flew dozens of missions in World War II and was downed by enemy fire, Robert Martin might have simply shrugged his shoulders and said “I was just trying to do my job the best I could do,” Gabrielle, one of his three daughters, said.
“Dad was really kind of a humble man,” she said.
Robert Martin lived in Olympia Fields from 2008 until his death at age 99 in July 2018.
For his military service, he was awarded honors such as the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart. Martin was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1945 with the rank of captain.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, who had introduced legislation in February to name the post office in the airman’s honor, called Martin “an American hero.”
Martin’s son and three daughters were in the audience, with Kelly telling them “your father earned this day a long time ago.”
After the event at Village Hall, Martin’s children went to the post office where a plaque dedicating the building in their father’s honor was unveiled. The post office is at 3033 W. 203rd St., adjacent to the Olympia Fields Metra station.
Martin was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on Feb. 9, 1919. Before the war, Martin earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and after being discharged from the military worked as an electrical engineer for the city of Chicago before retiring in 1988.
Martin was part of a group of black aviators who served in the U.S. armed forces at a time when he and other airmen trained and lived in segregated facilities. The administration of President Franklin Roosevelt made flight instruction available at selected black colleges as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, and an air base was established and devoted to training black pilots near the famed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founded by the pioneering black educator Booker T. Washington.
Martin earned his wings in 1944 and was commissioned a second lieutenant, then flew with a squadron based in Italy. On his 64th mission, Martin was shot down by enemy gunfire near Zagreb, Yugoslavia in March 1945. He spent a month behind enemy lines with partisans in a secret Yugoslavian camp before the Allied advance allowed him to return to his unit’s base in Italy.
Martin was also a founding member and later president of the Chicago chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
Gabrielle Martin said her father was an avid golfer and played the sport— in all 50 states. He “remained curious about life and never stopped exploring,” she said.
Despite the obstacles her father faced as a black man in the armed forces and as a resident of a nation where “Jim Crow was alive and well,” she said her father told his family he “had to take a stand” against Nazi atrocities, and “felt it was his duty to serve his country.”
She said the family hoped that the naming of the post office in her father’s honor would “inspire others to aim high.”