George “Junior” Martin, a longtime participant in the Elk Grove Western Festival, died at the age of 94 on Oct. 30.
Martin’s contributions to Elk Grove also included his supervision of the laying of Elk Grove’s first underground sewer system in the mid-1960s. He performed that work as a foreman with A. Teichert & Son – a Sacramento company that he joined in 1947.
It was during that year that he moved to California from his native Oklahoma where he was raised on a cattle ranch as the oldest of the four children of George and Ada Martin.
Martin was a registered member of the Cherokee Nation and his great-great grandmother, Susie Still, walked the Trail of Tears, in which the Cherokees were forcibly marched from their native land in Georgia to a reservation in Oklahoma.
Nicole Martin, granddaughter of George Martin, told the Citizen that Still made that 14-month trek, battling the elements with her three small children.
Martin, who was born on Jan. 4, 1926, was drafted into the U.S. Army during his senior year of high school in 1942. During World War II, he served as a machine gunner in Belgium, France, and Germany.
He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which was that war’s last major German offensive on the Western Front. In a separate battle, Martin was shot in his right arm and captured by the German army. He spent several weeks in a German prisoner of war camp before being freed by the Allies.
He eventually received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals for his heroic achievements and the wounds he suffered in combat.
Nicole told the Citizen that her grandfather seldom spoke about his service in the war.
“He was really reticent to talk about it, but when he did, he would talk about how he was in the Battle of the Bulge and how cold it was and how he nearly froze to death every night in his foxhole,” she said.
Nicole also provided details about when Martin was captured by the Germans.
“He was a machine gunner that would feed the rounds into the gun and his buddy got shot,” she said. “He was the gunner, so (Martin) took over and his platoon was retreating and he didn’t hear them, because he was manning the gun. He got shot in the right arm and then captured.”
Nicole said that as a POW, her grandfather was only given raw potatoes and water.
She also mentioned that Martin’s parents received word that he was missing in action and presumed dead.
“The next day, (Martin) walked through the front door in Oklahoma,” she said. “They thought they lost their son, and there he was.”
Nicole added that her grandfather was offered the opportunity to receive the Bronze Star from the president of the United States, but declined that offer to return to his family as quickly as possible.
Following his service, which continued until 1945, Martin spent a summer working at a fruit cannery in Oregon with his cousin.
While back in Oklahoma in 1947, he met his then-future wife, Lena, who was known by her nickname, “Toots.” Later that year, the couple moved to California and was married in Sacramento.
The couple lived on 63rd Avenue, in south Sacramento, and spent 15 years on a ranch on Sheldon Road. Martin lived on Melrose Avenue, near Joseph Kerr Middle School, for the final 43 years of his life. He was nicknamed the “Mayor of Melrose.”
Altogether, Martin worked for Teichert for 38 years, and was the oldest living former employee of that company.
During his career with Teichert, he received the company’s first truck in the early 1950s.
Nicole explained how her grandfather became involved in the Western Festival.
“In 1980, he went to Oklahoma or Arkansas and he found a 1929 Ford Model A,” she said. “He did a restoration for a few years and drove it in the Western Festival once he was finished.
“It was factory-restored, so that’s why he won a lot of the historical entries in the Western Festival.”
He drove that car in the Western Festival for more than 25 years.
The car was also on display in the Towe Auto Museum – now California Automobile Museum – in Sacramento in the 1990s.
Martin and Lena raised three children – Danny, Ric and Dodie – and eventually had four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Martin was the oldest member of Laborers Union Local 185, and he was a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Nicole summarized her impression of her grandfather, describing him as an “extremely kind” man.
“My 35 years of knowing him, I never heard him use a curse or rough word to anyone,” she said. “He was overly polite. He was an extremely, warm, kind person. It’s a little bittersweet with him leaving, but he had an amazingly rich life.”