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Martin Howard died October 12, 2002, in Framingham, Massachusetts. He was 82 years old, the second of four generations of Martin Howards in his Irish-Catholic family. Towards the end of his life, when dementia had displaced the known, every time he met his own son he marveled that somebody else had his name.
The formative experience of Marty’s life was the one he never, ever discussed: nearly four years on an attack transport ship that landed troops and evacuated casualties during World War II, including on Omaha Beach and Okinawa. The U.S.S. Charles Carroll was nicknamed “Lucky Chuck,” for its gift of surviving torpedoes, ocean mines, and Kamikaze attacks.
The only time Marty spoke of it — perhaps to explain why he never spoke of it — was when he mentioned to a brother that he’d once pulled the body of a high-school classmate from the water.
Many decades later, one of his sons obtained his military records. They were dense with commendations. “This vessel was operating in thickly mined waters,” one read, “subject to bombing raids and constantly threatened by enemy submarines and surface attackers.” “During a period of two strenuous days and three nights,” read another (you could almost hear the clacking of the typewriter keys on the onion skin), “he diligently and cheerfully assisted in the operation of debarking troops and unloading their equipment.” But Marty wasn’t one for veteran ceremonies, and the crew of The Lucky Chuck had no reunions.
Back in Boston, he joined the city police department. He walked a midnight beat in Roxbury when the only way to get help was using a call box, then rose through the decades to become acting captain. Policemen had access to more lavish lifestyles through less savory means, but Marty was incorruptible. The first house he ever purchased was a few years before retirement.
Once a man has survived World War II, what’s left that could distress him? In the thick of Boston history — forced busing, student demonstrations — Marty sang baritone Irish songs, enjoyed cigars mightily (the roof of their car turned brown from the nicotine), and strolled with his five children and various grandchildren along the Castle Island causeway in South Boston. “Breathe this air,” he’d say to them. “It’s pure oxygen.”
He was not a complainer, but did voice a rare frustration once, towards the end of his life, when his son was visiting the rehabilitation hospital. “I’ve got to get out of here,” Marty said to him forcefully. “I’ve got to get off this ship.”
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