DECATUR – After growing up in an Army family, Marty Kent wasn’t interested in military service.
He received his draft notice and went to college instead. But after three years and facing inevitable military service, he decided to join the Navy.
“My dad was a sergeant in the Army so I grew up as one of his recruits,” Kent said. “Having that perspective, I just didn’t want anything to do with it.
“Bottom line was that I had been raised in a disciplinarian atmosphere, if you would. And then when it just became inevitable that I was going to have to serve, I just chose the Navy and primarily because I was living right there in Norfolk, Virginia, at the time.”
Kent joined in September 1966 and became a fire control radar technician for guns aboard the USS John King DDG-3 which was home-ported in Norfolk. When he reported to the destroyer, he thought he was destined for war.
“The rumor was we were going to Vietnam but we ended up in the Mediterranean instead,” he said. “We had cruises to the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.”
After two years on active duty, Kent got out in October 1968 as a petty officer third class. He went back to the University of Tennessee and graduated in 1972 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.
Kent went to work for BP-Amoco Chemical in Decatur and he retired in 1999 after 27 years.
He was the oldest of two children of retired Sgt. Maj. Bernard and Marjorie Kent. His father, who served 24 years in the Army, was an interpreter for the occupation forces in Japan after World War II.
Kent was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the Army sent his father to learn Japanese at the University of Michigan. After advanced Japanese language school in Monterrey, California, the family lived in Japan from 1946-49. Next came assignments at Camp Brekenridge, Kentucky, from 1949-51, Laurel, Maryland, from 1951-53, and four more years in Japan. Kent finished high school in 1962 in Arlington, Virginia, while his father had a one-year tour in Ghana, Africa. Between tours the family lived in Upstate New York, where his parents were from.
He spent two years at Old Dominion Technical Institute in Norfolk where he earned an associate degree in design technology in 1964. He said he had a “disastrous” school year at the University of Tennessee from 1965-66 before joining the Navy.
Kent’s wife of more than 48 years, Liz, died in March 2016 after battling multiple sclerosis for 50 years. Their son, Jeff, resides in Chattanooga with his wife, Shana, and two children.
Kent, 74, volunteers with Hospice of the Valley, the Committee on Church Cooperation, the Decatur Public Library, Quilts of Valor Foundation, and Forever Young Senior Veterans. He is also active in the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Decatur. He will accompany World War II veteran George Mills of Decatur on a trip in September to Europe for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. The trip is sponsored by the nonprofit Forever Young Senior Veterans. The organization is also sending Mills and other WWII veterans to France in June for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Retired Lt. Col. Mike Snyder, who heads the JROTC at Decatur High School, will accompany Mills on that trip.
He shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.
“I think that the Vietnam veterans are finally getting the recognition that they weren’t afforded during and immediately after the war,” he said.
Editor’s note: This is the 222nd in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.