I Promise You I’ll Be Home

Korean War Letters of a U.S. Marine


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About the Book

As a 21-year-old Marine sent to the front lines of the Korean War, Al Martinez dispatched letters almost daily to his young bride, Joanne. In battle, he experienced the worst that war can bring, and then he served as a combat correspondent and as writer and editor of his regimental newsletter, the Ridgerunner. After the war, he entered a career in journalism, becoming a featured columnist for the Los Angeles Times where he would earn three shared Pulitzer Prizes.

Written from the unique perspective of an obviously gifted, professional writer at the beginning of his career, his letters home capture his experiences eloquently and with depth of understanding as they express the dangers, hardships, fear, friendships, and even humor of life at the front. His vivid, often humorous pen-and-ink drawings portray scenes from the front lines.

About the Author(s)

Al Martinez (1929-2015) served in the Marine reserves while a student at San Francisco State College before being called to active duty in Korea for a year beginning in April 1951, first on the front lines and then in his regiment’s Public Information Office as a combat correspondent and newsletter writer and editor. After returning home, he began his career as a journalist in Oakland. Enticed to join the Los Angeles Times in 1971, he became a featured columnist for the paper in 1984. For the next 23 years, his columns appeared regularly, earning him many awards, including three shared Pulitzer Prizes and a National Headline Award for the best column in the United States.

Sara S. “Sue” Hodson is the retired curator of literary manuscripts for The Huntington Library. A fellow of the Society of American Archivists, she writes and lectures widely on archival and literary topics. She lives in Pasadena, California.

Bibliographic Details

Al Martinez
Edited by Sara S. Hodson

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 244
Bibliographic Info: 18 photos, glossary, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2024
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9316-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5214-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Chronology xi
Preface 1
Introduction: A Hole in History Three Years Wide 8
One—Come 4 A.M.—Reveille! 19
Two—Through Mud, Mortars and Hell 69
Three—Cpl. Al Martinez, Combat Correspondent…. How About That! 144
Afterword 215
Glossary: People, Places, Events, Phrases, Abbreviations, Military Terms 219
Further Reading 227
Index 229

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Decades before I knew him, Al Martinez—my friend, my colleague—lived another life in another hemisphere: as a combat Marine in Korea. In this collection of letters from the young Al, so adroitly and sensitively edited by Sara S. Hodson, I get to meet the embryo Al, the fledgling writer I came to know and work alongside: curious, passionate, courageous, humorous, bemused, and above all, humane.”—Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times columnist, Emmy-winning broadcaster, best-selling author

• “Literary curator Sara S. Hodson manages to find a silver lining, even in warfare, as she shares Martinez’s letters from the battleground, letters that bare a soldier’s heart and soul as he confronts loneliness, brotherhood, his own mortality—and his own morality.”—Paddy, Calistro, founding co-publisher, Angel City Press

• “Sara S. Hodson’s excellent editing of Al Martinez’s letters provides three fascinating stories in one: the civilian becomes a marine, the marine becomes a combat veteran, and the student becomes a confident newspaper man, with all three connected by a great love story. I Promise You I’ll Be Home is a remarkable work and an important document of the American experience in the Korean War.”—William M. Donnelly, author of Under Army Orders:  The Army National Guard during the Korean War

• “Al Martinez was a master story teller. He could make walking across the street an adventure. In this collection of letters to his wife Joanne, he has brought this rare talent to describing his years as a combat Marine in the Korean War, a bloody series of battles now slipping away from American memories. By telling of his Marine buddies, their dangerous experiences and, always, his love for Joanne, he reminds us of that war and the sacrifices made by those who fought it. After the war, as a Los Angeles Times columnist, he wrote about the city streets and their characters as he had with the war. He was the greatest. And this is an invaluable   addition to the literature of war.”—Bill Boyarsky, former columnist and city editor of the Los Angeles Times, co-editor of the weekly podcast Inside Golden State Politics