June 28, 1935 - May 26, 2018
Lieutenant Colonel Martin Richard Vissers, United States Army, retired, 82, died May 26, 2018 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital – Plano, from injuries sustained earlier that day in an accidental fall while walking home from an errand. At his passing he was attended by his wife, both daughters, grandson and son-in-law.
According to a close friend, “Martin had a lion’s heart and a poet’s head. A professional lifetime of violence never hardened him.” Martin often adopted an air of cigar-chomping bravado, varying from amusing to abrasive, which his close friends understood to be a shield for a sincere, kindly and somewhat shy nature. If he acted what he thought to be the proper demeanor for a warrior and patriot, it should be remembered he was both those things and much more. He was loyal, thoughtful and generous to his family and friends. He was a loving grandfather who devoted entire summers to traveling with his grandson, eventually taking him through all 50 states. He had a great, empathic and forgiving heart, was well-read and had a wry sense of humor.
Martin was born June 28, 1935 in New York City, the oldest of four sons born to Belgian and Dutch/English immigrant parents, Raymond Cornelius Vissers and Christina DeBrauw Vissers, who were of modest means but who appreciated the arts. His aunt was wardrobe mistress for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and then the New York City Ballet, taking young Martin with her when the companies went on tour. His maternal grandmother was wardrobe mistress for several Broadway productions and introduced him to the great Ray Bolger and others. He loved music and even when elderly could still sing the entire libretto from the Pirates of Penzance.
Martin grew up in the Borough of the Bronx. After attending New York City Public Schools 85 and 46, he was admitted by competitive examination to the Bronx High School of Science, an extremely selective academy of the New York Public School System, graduating in 1953. He studied at Cornell University for a year and then the less expensive Long Island Agricultural and Technical Institute for another year, until his funds ran out. In January, 1955 he enlisted in the United States Army, intending to save money and earn benefits that would enable him to return to college. After basic and advanced infantry training he was posted overseas to Germany and ordered to NCO school, graduating first in his class. In 1956, his military performance and scores brought Sergeant Vissers to the attention of an observant and persuasive company commander, who “suggested” he apply for Officer Candidate School. In 1957 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Regular Army. Graduating high in his class, Martin was able to elect and attend Army Aviation School at Camp Gary, San Marcos, Texas for training in fixed-wing aircraft. He loved flying and decided to make the Army a career.
On July 11, 1959 Lieutenant Vissers married Marjorie V. Sammartino of New York City, his devoted companion in life for almost 59 years, serving (among many other roles) as a cheerful and welcome counterweight to Martin’s strong and often blunt personality.
In 1960, Lieutenant Vissers was attending helicopter school at Fort Wolters and about to take his first check ride, when his wife went into labor. He drove her to the hospital, proceeded to the airfield for a ground school class, came back to the hospital for a while, then returned to the airfield and went aloft with his pilot instructor, passing his check ride with flying colors. Calling the hospital afterward to see how things were going he was told by the OB nurse – who outranked him – “Get down here right now!” His pilot instructor landed the aircraft at the hospital so he could, still in his flight suit, witness the birth of their first child.
Martin was a conspicuously brave Infantry officer and Army aviator of unusual skill, who devoted himself to the young soldiers he commanded during two combat tours in Vietnam, often at considerable risk to himself, to all of which numerous official citations bear witness. Two examples will suffice:
September 18, 1963, Republic of Vietnam: [While serving as an advisor to the 2nd Battalion, 338th Regiment, 21st Infantry Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam], “Captain Vissers accompanied the battalion command group aboard a landing craft ..” [traveling on the Ba Thie canal. An electrical mine was detonated by the Viet Cong, causing the boat to immediately sink and come under withering automatic weapons fire.] “With the command group in shock, Captain Vissers, without regard for his personal safety, and although he could not swim, immediately made an assessment of the situation and commenced rescue operations. He carried and dragged Captain Liem, who was unconscious, to the canal bank and rendered artificial respiration, saving Captain Liem’s life. Captain Vissers took count of the personnel who had reached shore, noted that one enlisted man was missing and returned a second time to the sunken craft and removed Private First Class Pham Van Xuong, who later died of his injuries. Captain Vissers calmly and rapidly assisted the Battalion Commander in organizing his unit, clearing the area of Viet Cong…” “The prompt, courageous actions of Captain Vissers were an inspiration to the Vietnamese with whom he served and earned him their respect and admiration. His valor under prolonged enemy fire reflects great credit upon himself…” Citation for award of the Bronze Star with V device [for valor.]
June 2, 1971, Republic of Vietnam: “Lieutenant Colonel Vissers ….distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions ….while serving as the pilot of an armed Light Observation Helicopter and Commander of [an] Aero-Rifle platoon that had been inserted into a suspected enemy location west of Minh Long.” [a numerically superior enemy force attacked the platoon and the medical evacuation helicopter that attempted to land to recover casualties.] “Immediately LTC Vissers maneuvered his craft over the enemy’s location, placing devastating suppressive fire….[allowing] the medical evacuation helicopter to safely extract the wounded.” [Then, when it became apparent the entire platoon would require extraction] “Again LTC Vissers exposed himself and his aircraft to the enemy fusillade, while placing suppressive fire on the hostiles’ location, enabling [the platoon’s survivors to be extracted.]” “Through his courageous actions and unrelenting dedication to the men of his battalion..” “LTC Vissers’ personal heroism, professional competence and devotion to duty … reflect great credit upon himself…” Citation for award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, First Oak Leaf Cluster (meaning, this is the second time he was awarded the medal.)
During his 22 years of active duty, Martin accumulated over 5,000 flight hours, a significant amount of it in combat during his tours in Vietnam. During his final tour in Vietnam he commanded the 123rd Combat Aviation Battalion of the 23rd Infantry (“Americal”) Division. After some years in the Army, he was finally able to take leave and finish his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He was also a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
During his Army service Martin was also awarded the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with 9 numerals, two Oak Leaf Clusters to the Bronze Star (meaning 3 times), a first Distinguished Flying Cross (the one described above being represented by an Oak Leaf Cluster to the original medal), Master Army Aviator Badge, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Korea); Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm.
Following his retirement from the Army, Martin and his family moved to Carrollton, Texas where he established a new Dunkin’ Donuts franchise restaurant, which he and Marjorie operated together for about eight years before selling the business as a going concern.
Martin devoted countless hours in his retirement to civic duty, serving on the Dallas County Grand Jury, serving as an election judge, serving on countless Veterans boards and committees, and on a military academy candidate selection advisory committee. His awards and honors for civic and charitable services are too numerous to mention.
In addition to his wife, Martin is survived by his two daughters, Susan Vissers Ham and Diane Vissers Rutherford, and his grandson, Christopher David Ham. He is also survived by his youngest brother, Leslie Michael Vissers, and several nieces, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by his parents and two of his younger brothers, Walter Vincent Vissers and Thomas Raymond Vissers.
On Thursday, May 31, 2018 between 5:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. CDT there will be a visitation for family and friends at North Dallas Funeral Home, 2710 Valley View Lane, Dallas, Texas 75234; and a memorial service at the same address on Friday, June 1 at 11:00 A.M. CDT.
On Monday, June 4, 2018 at 2:00 P.M. CDT, Martin’s remains will be interred with military honors at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, 2000 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas, Texas 75211.
In lieu of flowers the Vissers family requests that you consider a charitable donation in Martin’s memory to Army Emergency Relief, https://www.aerhq.org/, or a charity of your choice.
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