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Posted on: March 8, 2019

Olympia Fields post office could be named for Tuskegee Airmen pilot

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Capt. Martin, Tuskegee Airman

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly has introduced legislation to name the Olympia Fields post office in honor
of Capt. Robert Martin, a fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen. (Family of Robert Martin)

A member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen who lived in Olympia Fields would have the post office in that suburb named in his honor under legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson.

Last October, Olympia Fields village officials passed a resolution in tribute to Robert Martin, who died last July at age 99.

Kelly had contacted Martin’s family after reading an article about him and talked with his family about advancing legislation to name the post office in his honor, according to Kelly’s office. The post office is next to the Metra station in Olympia Fields.

Gabrielle Martin, one of Martin’s three daughters, said Kelly’s bill not only honors her father but it “honors the value of honorable service.”

“Dad flew for a segregated America that wanted to see him fail,” she said in a news release from Kelly’s office. “The rich history of the Tuskegee Airmen who fought racism at home and from home while facing hostilities overseas helped America secure victory and the many freedoms Americans enjoy.”

It is the first legislation Kelly has introduced since her election to Congress to name a postal facility in the memory of a 2nd District resident, according to her office.

In the news release, Kelly said that naming the Olympia Fields post office for Martin “is a fitting tribute to this American hero,” and that “his name and legacy are a source of pride to the community.”

Robert Martin was part of a group of black aviators who served in the U.S. armed forces at a time when he and other airmen trained and lived in segregated facilities.

As part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, the administration of Franklin Roosevelt made flight instruction available at selected black colleges, and an air base was established, devoted to training black pilots, near the famed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, founded by the pioneering black educator Booker T. Washington. The segregated unit eventually became the 332nd Fighter Group, part of the Army Air Corps.

About 450 of the pilots fought in the aerial war over North Africa, Sicily and Europe, completing more than 1,500 missions. They escorted bombing missions, shot down enemy aircraft and destroyed enemy trains and vehicles through strafing missions.

Martin earned his wings in 1944 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. He flew with the 100th Fighter Squadron, based in Italy.

Martin flew 63 missions as a U.S. combat pilot in World War II, and on his 64th was shot down by enemy gunfire near Zagreb, Yugoslavia in 1945. He spent a month in a secret Yugoslavian camp before the Allied advance allowed him to return to his unit’s base in Italy.

In a 1991 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Martin said he bailed out of his aircraft and was found by a member of the Yugoslav resistance, the Partisans, before he could be captured by the Nazis.

“I’ll never forget: There I was in a field, struggling to get out of my parachute,” Martin told the paper. “Then this boy comes up to me and says: ‘Me Partisan. You American, Joe?’”

He received service medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, and, in 2007, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush at a ceremony honoring the Tuskegee Airmen.

Martin was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on Feb. 9, 1919. Before the war, Martin had earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and after being discharged from the military with the rank of captain worked as an electrical engineer for the city of Chicago before retiring in 1988. He moved to Olympia Fields in 2008.

post office

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly has introduced legislation to name the Olympia Fields post office in honor
of Capt. Robert Martin, a fighter pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen. (Mike Nolan/Daily Southtown)

In 2012, a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 57 through the south suburbs and extending north into Chicago was named the “Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Trail,” with Martin among the fabled fliers and their family members who attended a dedication ceremony at Markham City Hall.

Martin and his wife, Odette, were married for 68 years and had four children.

The post office naming requires approval by both the House and Senate, and a ceremony at the post office would be scheduled at some point following congressional approval, a spokesman for Kelly said.

Other local examples of post offices being named for notable people includes the postal facility in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, which, in 2015, was dedicated in memory of Chicago Fire Department Capt. Herbert “Herbie” Johnson. He had died in November 2012 at age 54 while battling a fire in a two-story house in Chicago’s Englewood community.

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