By Zachary Daum
Born March 17, 1970, 1988 Collinsville High School graduate, James “Jimmy” Martin Jr. joined the military when he turned 18 years old at the suggestion of his half brother, Woodford “Woody” Martin. There he became a successful rifleman. No one could have known or been prepared for what happened in 1993 when Jimmy, along with several other American soldiers, attempted to rescue the survivors of two downed Black Hawk helicopters trapped behind enemy lines in Mogadishu, Somalia. This was The Battle of Mogadishu, also known as the Black Hawk Down Incident.
18 American soldiers died that day in what would be the largest loss of American life behind enemy lines after the Vietnam War. Among those deaths was Jimmy Martin.
His brother Woody discussed how a decision by his mother put him in the military at a very young age, which eventually set his younger brother Jimmy on the same path. “I was born in a state park, in 1946, on the way to the hospital in East St. Louis. Because I was born outside the hospital I didn’t get a birth certificate. My mother and father were divorced. My father was a Korean War Veteran. My mother remarried an Air Force man. His name was Dan Clem. I had to use his last name while I was in school. My birth name was Woodford Martin. All through school I was known as Woody Clem. One of my brothers was two years older than me. One day, when my brother turned 17, my mother took him to the Army recruiter. Since he also did not have a birth certificate, she was told she could sign for him, saying he was old enough. Two months later, she took me down to the Army recruiter and said I was old enough and she would sign for me too. Four months before I turned 16 years old I joined the Army. I never finished school. While (my older brother) was taken to AIT (Army Individual Training) I was in basic training at the same place as my older brother in Fort Polk, LA. I finally was using my real name, Woodford Martin.
“After 24 years in the Army and the United States Air Force I went back into the Army. I finally went to visit my real father who was married and had a little girl. Then he remarried to a woman who already had a son. They had their own son, James Henry Martin Jr. Jimmy came to see me since I moved back to Collinsville, where he lived. He said he was getting out of school and asked me what he should do for a living. So I told him, join the Army, you will have a place to sleep with a roof over your head. They’ll feed you, pay you and train you to do a job until you make up your mind. Little did I know he would turn out to be a skilled marksman.”
After becoming the skilled marksman that he was, Jimmy was chosen to be one of the soldiers to rescue the men who had become trapped behind enemy lines in Mogadishu, Somalia. He died in a firefight there on October 4, 1993. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service.
Woody tearfully explained what happened after Jimmy had died and how it still affects him to this day. “My dad and stepmother hated me for telling him what to do with his life and they never talked to me again. I was called up for Desert Storm to train men and I never got to see action. (My dad and stepmother) are all dead now and my stepfather’s wife remarried. They didn’t want me to have anything of his. I now wish it was me that had died.”
Although he is gone, Jimmy lives on in the memories of those who cared for him. Recently, Woody came into possession of photos of Jimmy he had never seen before, provided by Jimmy’s former wife. Although he had never been able to have any of Jimmy’s property, Woody was overjoyed to see photos of his brother. “It’s hard to explain (the feelings of seeing them) but I’m glad to have them.”