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San Antonio Iraq War Veteran Surprises NPR's David Greene

Nathan Cone

**Editor's Note: Victor Martinez has since admitted that his story is a fabrication: He did not serve in Iraq and there were no CDs sent to him. Click here for the full retraction and explanation.

Many of us start our day listening to "Morning Edition," and we depend on getting the world’s news from Steve Inskeep, Renee Montagne, and David Greene.

But when Greene visited Texas Public Radio last week, he found out that often those listeners who are counting on him for the NPR perspective are very far from home.

It was a whirlwind around the TPR studios last week as we prepared for a visit from Greene and "Morning Edition" Executive Producer Tracy Wahl.

Then, to make a great visit from NPR folks even more meaningful, along came Victor Martinez.

This is what happened when Victor came into the office of TPR President Joyce Slocum, where Greene had been invited in for a special meeting.

“Victor, this is David Greene,” Slocum said.

“You’re David Greene?” Martinez said. “I saw you in the bathroom!”

Greene and the others in the room laughed and he said it was a great way to meet.

Martinez is a 26-year veteran who recently returned from Iraq, where he was assigned to the Army’s 785th Combat Operational Stress Control Unit, working crisis intervention with soldiers who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now retired from the Army, Martinez works at the Veterans Administration in San Antonio as a case manager for homeless veterans. And he volunteers at Texas Public Radio.

While answering phones during the spring pledge drive, Martinez heard that his favorite NPR host was coming to San Antonio and he requested a meeting with Greene to tell the Morning Edition host his story.

Both men were a little nervous. Motionless, not knowing what to expect, Greene listened.

“David, this is really a milestone for me and I’ll tell you why,” Martinez began. “I served two tours in Iraq, and the second one was very, very hard. I was in a combat stress control unit. I was the First Sergeant in charge of 350 soldiers.

“But these soldiers, what they did, was they would treat the wounds that do not bleed. In other words, the ravages -- the horrors -- of what a war entails, is what the people under me treated so that the others could heal. And prevent any catastrophes or anything bad for these soldiers.

“And the way in which we found harbor was maybe listening to some music or some would revert to other things like alcohol but, nevertheless, I had my harbor. My wife would send me CDs of 'Morning Edition' with David Greene, and that’s what I would listen to.”

“Wow,” said Greene, taken by surprise.

Martinez continued:

“And then, you know, around the unit, it became coined that when the First Sergeant would be really in bad shape, they would say, ‘Top, you need to Greene.’ And I would just sit in my little room or whatever and just listen to you,” Martinez said.

“That is the most touching thing that I’ve ever heard,” said Greene, taken by surprise.

Here in San Antonio, Military City, USA, many of us know of the special coins designed by service members in different units to commemorate their bond of service. And this is what sets up the next part of the story.

“A coin was minted from me and my commander for those behavioral technicians that were the most effective and that we really saw that the passion and the spirit were there and they actually saved people: In your case, you saved me. So I saved a coin. The only one of these coins left in the world and it’s for you.

“And the way that we present it, it’s militarily. You have to shake my hand, like this,” Martinez said, demonstrating the handshake and transfer of the coin to Greene’s hand.

“Got it,” Greene said. “And then I take it?”

“And then you take it,” Martinez said.

Silence for just a moment, and then Greene said, “Can I hug you? Is that okay?

“Seriously, this is the most meaningful thing that I’ve really ever --it’s incredibly moving,” Greene said. “I feel like we know that when we’re in that studio that we’re -- there’s something powerful happening and we, we take that so, so seriously. But I never really understood, you know, at this deep level.

“And it means the world to me to hear that connection existed,” Greene said.  

Martinez said the work in Iraq was intense, his unit serving more than 20,000 soldiers just in 2012. He said during the tough times, Greene’s friendly voice provided just what he needed to hear.

“Reality, with a symphony, and that was his voice,” Martinez said. “Just regular stuff: Current events from the States and otherwise. And besides, it’s just his voice is unique. So it was like listening to a song.”

Greene was still emotional after he received the coin.

“Seriously, you can’t imagine how meaningful this is,” Greene said. “And I will never sit in the studio in the same way."

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.