Serving on the Seas
The motto of the U.S. Coast Guard is Semper Paratus, or Always Ready. On two separate occasions, a young Martin Nash and his fellow guardsmen were passengers on a seaplane tender bound for Vietnam to operate river gunboats.
“We had a job to do,” recalled Nash, Tyler County Commissioner, “and we were going to do it.”
The 255-foot long seaplane tender with four small boats attached to the base made it halfway between Midway Island and Vietnam before breaking down. The transport boat, built in 1950, was towed to Japan for repair. Three months later, Nash was aboard the same tender bound for Vietnam a second time.
“The boat broke down again,” Nash recounted, “and we returned to Japan.” This time around, Nash was ordered to return to his previous ocean station.
A Very Low Number
Martin Nash graduated from Beaumont’s Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School in 1968.
“I had a very low draft number,” Nash shared, “and with the TET Offensive going, they were drafting people like crazy. I had a lot of friends rated 4F. They would change them from to 4F to 1A, and they would be gone.” Level 4F meant “registrant not qualified for military service,” and 1A indicated “available for military service.”
The Tet Offensive, launched in January 1968, was a series of surprise, coordinated attacks by the Vietcong, rebel forces sponsored by North Vietnam, and North Vietnamese forces on major cities in South Vietnam and scores of other cities, towns and hamlets.
Anticipating his eventual draft, Nash applied for admission into the U.S. Coast Guard thinking perhaps this route would spare him from Vietnam; he scored quite well on the Coast Guard admission test. Before he knew it, Nash found himself in California – where training included cutting off all of his hair – and then on his way to Hawaii.
Nineteen-year-old Nash, who had never been out of the Lone Star State prior to his enlistment, was assigned to the USCG Chautauqua based out of Honolulu. The ship was dispatched halfway between Midway Island and Vietnam and charged with directing air traffic to Vietnam. Other duties on Nash’s ocean station included periodic search and rescue missions and ocean graphic services.
Eventually, Nash was ordered to return to Hawaii where he was trained to operate gunboats on rivers in Vietnam. After two failed attempts to transport Nash’s group of guardsmen to Vietnam, Nash returned to his original post for another year or so.
He was eventually sent to Sabine Pass for two years of search and rescue. Nash was discharged from active duty after four years, and he remained in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve for an additional two years.
“It was an interesting six years,” Nash described. “I did not see combat, but many of my friends did.”
Memorable experiences included searching for a downed plane out of Hawaii, sailing through rough waters in a tycoon near Alaska, and rescuing passengers from a sinking boat off of Sabine Pass. Nash sailed in hurricane conditions and was part of crews that conducted inspections.
While Nash said the six years of service were personally rewarding, the public’s reaction to returning soldiers and those stationed stateside, as Nash was in Sabine Pass, was disheartening. In fact, Nash does not have any individual photos of himself in uniform, as he was not comfortable wearing the Coast Guard insignia in public.
“It was difficult being in the military at that time,” Nash explained. “During the Vietnam era, we were not loved at home. You hid the fact that you were in the service. And that was hard for me.
“My heart goes out to the Vietnam veterans,” he continued. “They are heroes, and you can’t imagine what it was like for them when they came home.”
Following Nash’s discharge, he was fortunate enough to find a company that was hiring veterans: Southwestern Bell.
“I was able to slip in,” Nash said, “and I stayed for 30 years.”
He worked for Southwestern Bell in Orange and Beaumont before the company transferred him to Woodville in Tyler County. After retirement, Nash owned a construction company for four-five years before being elected as Tyler County Commissioner in 2005.
“My family has been very service-oriented,” Nash commented. “That is one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing today.”
One facet of Tyler County that Nash is particularly proud of is the community’s dedication to its veterans; having experienced the opposite during the Vietnam years, Nash is thankful for the county’s sense of patriotism.
“We try and take care of our veterans here in Tyler County,” Nash emphasized. “Veterans are a big part of our population.”
Tyler County operates a Veterans Service Office staffed by a veterans service officer and an administrative assistant/van scheduler. The office is currently open 20 hours each week and provides a variety of services to veterans including counseling on benefits and eligibility; assistance in completing forms and submitting claims for benefits; referrals to support services within the county and beyond; and assistance with scheduling and rescheduling medical appointments.
The county also operates a transportation service using volunteer drivers to take county veterans to their appointments at DeBakey V.A. Medical Center in Houston.
“All they have to do is pick up the phone and call,” Nash said.
The van was purchased by local veterans organizations, and expenses are covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This service is extremely valuable to our veterans who are unable to travel to Houston any other way,” remarked Kay Timme, special projects coordinator for the Tyler County Judge’s office. Timme’s father, a 93-year-old WWII veteran born and raised in Tyler County, returns to the area every year to take part in Veterans Day programs in both Woodville and Warren.
“Our citizens are very patriotic,” Nash observed, “and they look out for those who served.”
For more information about veterans services in Texas, go to https://www.tvc.texas.gov/.
By Julie Anderson