Vietnam horror fails to derail Viera man’s achievements


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Don Martin likes to take photos at the Viera Wetlands.

Don Martin’s life journey has taken him from Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to the Wetlands Viera, where he has found national fame as an award-winning photographer.

Although he was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., Martin grew up in Daytona Beach, where his father owned a junkyard. Working at his dad’s yard didn’t seem like much of a future to the 17-year-old Martin, who instead opted for the Navy’s “Kiddie Cruise,” which allowed under-age recruits to sign up with their parents’ blessings. 

The Navy trained him as a dental technician and Martin joined the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C. A survival school course prepared him for service in Vietnam, where he arrived just a week before the bloody Tet Offensive. 

The young soldier was assigned to the Riverine Assault Force, River Division 91, at the U.S.S. Colleton, a floating barracks that took position up the Mekong River, where the ship was a hub for 75 river patrol boats that ferried soldiers up and down the river and its tributaries during combat. 

Don Martin won an award for this photo of a family of blue herons. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DON MARTINDuring his time there, Martin worked with the medics helping the wounded.

“The helicopters would bring in the severely wounded,” he said. 

Although he was never injured, Martin was nevertheless exposed to Agent Orange, used as a defoliant to clear the river banks from jungle scrub enemy trips could use to their advantage. Medical issues from the exposure continue plaguing him. 

Martin left Vietnam in 1969 to report to Coronado, Calif., a decidedly better location, yet one the soldier couldn’t wait to leave so he could get on with the rest of his life.

His best buddy’s girlfriend introduced him to pen pal Anne, whom he would later marry and settle down with in her home turf of Boston. 

A job at a dental lab turned into a career and Martin eventually owned his own Boston dental laboratory, specializing in dental implants. His interest in photography began here, as he photographed thousands of images for use in technical presentations and publications.

After the kids left home, the Martins migrated south to Palm Coast, where Martin relocated the lab until he retired in 2014 and moved to Viera to be closer to his son and his grandchildren. With the newfound spare time and the proximity of the Viera Wetlands, Martin began photographing the natural richness of the area. One of the results was “Morning Conversation,” an image of a family of blue herons. The pictured earned Martin grand prize among thousands of entries in Outdoor Photographer magazine’s seventh annual Great Outdoors Photo Competition this year. 

Viera has been good for Martin, photographically speaking, for his image of the Ferris wheel, taken at night during the Viera State Fair, snagged him the People’s Choice award from more than 3,000 entries in the Digital Photo magazine competition.

More grandchildren, this time in Maine, affords Martin the opportunity to spend several weeks each year photographing the New England coast and the chance to grab more awards. His works are represented at Art & Antique Studio in the Eau Gallie Arts District of Melbourne.