Martin Lee holds an Army Freedom Team award certificate in front of a wall covered with other awards and Army memorabilia in his garage in Portland. Lee served in World War II and the Korean War, in which he received, among others, bronze and silver stars and a Purple Heart for his courage in battle. At left are some of Lee’s medals. (The Commercial Review/Amanda Junk)
Martin Lee holds an Army Freedom Team award certificate in front of a wall covered with other awards and Army memorabilia in his garage in Portland. Lee served in World War II and the Korean War, in which he received, among others, bronze and silver stars and a Purple Heart for his courage in battle. At left are some of Lee’s medals. (The Commercial Review/Amanda Junk)
As he stood outside the Moser Motors office building on Meridian Street Saturday morning, Martin Lee, clad in his Troop 206 Eagles Scouts uniform, shouted out directions to his much younger counterparts at the troop's car wash fundraiser.

"They said I got surgery so I wouldn't have to help wash cars, because I can't get this wet," he joked from the sidelines, as he pointed to his right hand, wrapped in a gauze bandage after a recent surgery.

But those who know him in the troop know he'd be more than willing to help with the physical labor at the car wash if he could - he's donated more than just his time to the troop over the past year, volunteering to teach a gun safety class while serving as an unofficial mentor to younger troop members in Jay County.

During his time as the troop's assistant scout master, a position he's held for "a little more than a year," Lee has also single-handedly established a camping fund for the Scouts which began four months ago, building upon the fund's starting value of $100.

Saving just a bit here and there out of his own pocket, Lee puts just about another $100 into the fund each month. Up until this point he has put enough money away to send 10 boys in the troop to Camp Chief Little Turtle and pay for their patches later this summer, a total of more than $1,000.

"When I started out in this about a year ago, I thought if I could help one child - one boy - on the straight and narrow, I had helped," Lee said.

While he doesn't plan to do the overnight camping trip, he does want to make visits to the campgrounds to support his troop members.

"I try to be active, given my age," said Lee, 78, who has recently been inducted into Boy Scout's Order of the Arrow Honor Society.

Life-shaping service

Lee's involvement with the Eagle Scouts began a few years ago, when he met Scout Col. Dan Daniels at the Honor Guard at an American Legion dinner. Daniels needed someone to run the firing range at the Scout lodge, and after the two exchanged a few friendly military jokes, Daniels, an Air Force veteran, asked Lee to teach gun safety and participate in rifle shooting classes for the Scouts.

"He does it all for betterment of the boys to make them leaders," Daniels said.

"Marty's stepped up as an individual and, has done a good job in helping us and the children."

Lee never participated in Eagle Scouts when he was growing up in the 1930s and '40s; instead he enlisted in the military "at a very young age" and soon set off on a tour of duty in the Pacific theatre during World War II.

"Everyone I knew and was friends with was older than me and was joining the military," he said. "Then, it was just the patriotic thing to do."

He reflects on his Army experiences whenever he teaches a gun safety class, which usually takes place a couple times a year, and notes the differences in ammunition instruction.

"You have to explain things a few more times, working with 11- to 18-year-olds," said Lee, who began his military career in the Pacific theatre with the 541st Airborne Unit, and traveled to Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan during his tour of duty.

Always with a sense of humor and adventure, he said he remembers jump school as his favorite part of his early training.

"The biggest thing I got out of the military was discipline, being very young when I joined the service, it shaped my life completely," Lee said.

He was active with the army for the last few months of World War II, he said, and the bulk of his time with the service involved the Korean Conflict, in which he sometimes fought in areas with 40-degree below temperatures.

Lee suffered a hit from a mortar round bullet and was shot through both legs at the battle of Heartbreak Ridge, located in the hills of North Korea a few miles north of the 38th parallel near Chorwon - the prewar boundary between North and South Korea - during the fall of 1951. He was taken off the hill soon after that.

During his time as a ground soldier he rose to the rank of first sergeant, almost by default.

"My company commander called me down to the bottom of the hill one day and he asked me, 'Did you turn your platoon over to the assistant?' and always following orders of course I did," Lee remembered. "He turned to me then and told me I got bumped up. Almost everyone else had died."

He was also awarded with various campaign medals including a Bronze Star, Silver Star and a Purple Heart, but despite the valor that comes along with the award for his courage during battle, Lee still remains humble about the honor more than 50 years later.

"What other people got medals for, we did on a regular basis," he said. "The Purple Heart is something I don't talk about, still, really. It's just from three different wounds during the war, and that's that."

He later became a temporary sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank in the military, in 1957 and remained active in service until 1961.

"I knew it was necessary to tell someone to do something that he was gonna do it. ... I had to have complete command. When I made an order it had to be obeyed. People could lose lives when they weren't."

Unofficial mentor

Today Lee's leadership role isn't quite as high stakes. But it's nonetheless fulfilling.

Despite the difference in gun firing speed - Eagle Scouts today shoot with a 22-caliber rifle compared to a minimum 30-caliber back in Lee's military days - the adherence to gun safety when he's instructing at a firing range is still the same.

"[The boys] seem to get to it pretty good," he said. "They learn fast."

In addition to noting Lee's camp fund donations and gun safety participation, Daniels said his fellow Scout leader and military friend also serves as a strong male role model to the younger Scouts, even though the troop doesn't have an official mentor program.

"One year he took an underprivileged family under his wing for Christmas and helped to buy presents," Daniels said. "He's just really there for the kids, doing things like that and putting in time and effort to make sure some of our members can feel included when they can't afford things [like go to camp]."