Saturday, December 31, 2016

Remembering Colonel Martinnen

On the last day of this sorry year, by way of a minute thumb on the scale to set the true weight right again, I will mention one of my commanders from my military days, Colonel Alpo Kullervo Martinnen. The world always has its share of brave and courageous people; they are rarely noted but, I trust, they’re really in the majority. Yesterday, in a note from my old friend Phil Cavanaugh, I was reminded again that Colonel Martinnen had been one of them.

I knew Col. Martinnen in the 8th Infantry Division. At the time he was the head of G5, the divisional department responsible for (then) for Civil Affairs and Military Government. Not surprisingly, all members of that group, at that time, were foreigners: Col Martinnen was a Finn; I was the ranking enlisted man with Hungarian, German, and French language skills; Horst Stark and Gary Wiese were both Germans. In case of a war breaking out, our G5 would have managed relations with the surrounding population—of which the chief task would have been keeping the roads open for military operations.

Martinnen (1908-1975) had risen to the rank of Lt Col in the Russo-Finnish War (1942-1944) as commander of the 61st Infantry Regiment. After the war he was active in the massive Weapons Cache Case in Finland during which military people hid weaponry and supplies for up to 35,000 soldiers in case of yet another Soviet invasion of the country. The Weapons Cache came to be discovered. Martinnen and many of his followers then fled Finland. Most emigrated to the United States and there enlisted in the U.S. Army around 1947. By the time I knew him, Martinnen was once again a Lieutenant Colonel, but this time in the U.S. Army. The Army immediately commissioned him a Major on enlisting—and then had him undergo U.S. basic training with mostly 18-year old privates. After serving as a trainer in winter warfare, he eventually was sent to Germany as a staff officer. And after that stint, he went on to command the 13th Battle Group, the successor to the 13th Infantry Regiment, which had been my own arma mater. Later yet he served in Korea and, just before he passed at age 67, he was serving in an assignment in Iran.

Beneath the layers of public life where power tends to corrupt, the stalwarts and the brave go on doing their thing with energy and courage—if sometimes bending the rules. One time, I recall, I had to type a document classified as Confidential. I took the document to him and said that I couldn’t do it: it was classified—and I had not received my clearance yet. “I clear you,” he said briskly. And I went off to type. (The document was about clearing roads of obstructions. Overclassification was already well-entrenched back then in the 1950s).

I’ve mentioned Col Martinnen once before, in 2011, in connection with the Finnish language here on this blog. Ethnically Alpo Kullervo was a Swede, you see, like many others of the upper layers of Finnish life, but determined nevertheless to master his “mother” tongue. A worthy man. I discovered yesterday that one of his sons, also a U.S. soldier, died young in Grafenwöhr, Germany, during an artillery accident at that firing range—a desolate place but one that I’ve always loved. 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia (link).

2 comments:

  1. What a very nice post about a man whose life touch yours and many others. I'll bet you never even knew Col. Martinnen when he was as young as the photo depicts.

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  2. You're right. I've tried very hard to find a picture of him roughly at the age when I knew him, but failed. Brigitte thought he looks a little like me (the eyes). I wouldn't know...

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