Clair P. Martin, a World War II veteran and Pacific Beach resident, celebrates his 100th birthday
Celebrating 100 years of life is an extraordinary feat for anyone, especially World War II veteran and longtime Pacific Beach resident Clair P. Martin.
Martin, who also goes by the names C.P. and Curly, was born on a farm in La Veta, Colorado. A barn fire wiped out his father’s cattle business when Martin was a child, so the family moved to Oceanside, where some relatives lived and ran a meat market.
Martin attended both Oceanside Elementary and Oceanside Union High schools; at the latter, he competed in track and football. After graduating in 1940, he began working as a lineman for Pacific Bell Telephone Company.
Two years later, Martin was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. Once he completed infantry basic training at Camp Crowder in Missouri, Martin was sent to England and assigned to the 29th Infantry as a radio operator to prepare for the D-Day Invasion. Martin is among the thousands of American soldiers who fought in Normandy, but one of the few who is still alive.
“I made it through unscratched — well, I got scratched a little bit. But I survived,” said Martin, whose wartime experiences included being wounded on Omaha Beach, as well as being caught behind enemy lines for four days in The Battle of Saint-Lô.
He received various medals for his service, including a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. More recently, he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur (The Legion of Honour), the highest French order of merit, in November 2019.
“I spent all my time in the service ... I thank God that he got me through it,” he said.
Martin was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1945 and returned home to his wife Maxime, whom he married two months before he left for war. They had a daughter, Susan, and moved to Pacific Beach when she was a toddler.
“I’m a longtime resident since the early 1950s,” Martin said, adding that he still lives in the same house he bought in the neighborhood half a century ago.
After he bought the house, Martin said, he realized it was the same one he had fallen in love with on a past job for Pacific Bell.
Upon his return from the service, Martin resumed work at Pacific Bell, working various roles including lineman, foreman, employment supervisor and quality inspector. After a 43-year career, Martin retired in 1983 and became active with his church and the Clairemont Hills Kiwanis Foundation.
His wife Maxime passed away from cancer three years later. However, after 25 years being single, Martin got a second chance at love.
Years ago, Martin and Maxime met Martha Shannon and her husband Carl at First Baptist Church of La Jolla, and the four San Diegans became close friends. Though Shannon and her husband moved to Lake Elsinore, the couples continued to send each other Christmas cards and reunited about once a year.
When Shannon’s husband passed away in 2012, Martin attended his service and the two friends reconnected. A year and a half later, Martin invited Shannon to lunch at his timeshare at Welk Resorts in Escondido.
“We knew each other so well all those years … when he asked me to marry him, it was not any big deal,” Shannon said. “I said yes immediately because I knew his character, I knew what he was like, I knew how he treated his wife and daughter.”
Ten months later, 84-year-old Shannon and 92-year-old Martin got married and have now shared “seven years of complete happiness.”
“The people in the church keep telling us that we’re (an inspiration) for the younger people in the church. They see how at our age we still love each other and take care of each other,” Shannon said, adding that she and Martin still attend the church they met at, now called the La Jolla Christian Fellowship.
On March 21, a party was held for Martin to celebrate his 100th birthday. An estimated 150 people attended the socially distanced event, which was held at Marina Village Conference Center in Mission Bay.
Guests came from all over the country, including Martin’s daughter Susan, who lives in Texas, along with many of Shannon’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who Martin loves and treats as his own.
The event featured a catered lunch, three birthday cakes (including carrot cake, Martin’s favorite), a toast with Martinelli’s, and live entertainment, including a bluegrass band from their church and songs performed by guests, including Shannon’s great-granddaughter.
One of the highlights was an official celebration of Martin’s Légion d’Honneur. Because the ceremony in which Martin was expected to receive his certificate was cancelled due to COVID-19, Lt. Colonel David Mulcahy, a retired Marine who attends the couple’s church, presented Martin with the certificate at the party, also providing guests some history about the distinguished honor.
Additionally, his friends at Clairemont Hills Kiwanis surprised him with a plaque to recognize his life achievements and contribution to the foundation. Various friends, family members, and Martin himself also gave speeches for the occasion.
While he has some difficulty with his hearing, the now 100-year-old Martin is in good health. He doesn’t drive anymore, but stays active around the house, regularly watering the garden and always eager to fix anything that breaks.
What does he credit his long life to?
“A love of God, working and exercising,” Martin said.