Thursday, April 18, 2024

Meet Your Local Navy Legends: Retired SEAL Moki Martin

Moki Martin and his family. (Photo provided by Moki Martin)

The Coronado community has a large number of military veterans quietly contributing to what makes this one of the most wonderful places to live. Many are unaware of the amazing feats of valor that don’t necessarily define who our local veterans are, but are core to their character and nature and should be celebrated and honored. I had the pleasure of getting to know Moki Martin as we sat down for an interview on March 1st. As with many veterans, Moki didn’t spend much time talking about himself or his achievements as a Navy SEAL, but what was most important to him – his family, his teammates, his service and his art.

Moki grew up in Maui, Hawaii, a waterman who could swim like a fish and who practically lived in the water. When asked what made him join the Navy he said, “On Maui in the mid-fifties Marines and Navy would come in for training and I was always interested in it. I did a lot of swimming, surfing and spear fishing. I saw the movie The Frogman that came out in 1951 and that put the nail in the coffin. I met an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 4 Sailor on the beach when I was about to go spear-fishing and we got to talking, he said ‘You should join the Navy and you can join UDT because you have duck feet,’ so I enlisted. The recruiter told me I wasn’t able to go directly into UDT but I eventually got there.”

Photos of Moki from his time serving as a Navy SEAL. (Photos provided by Moki Martin)

Moki’s perseverance in all things was evident as we continued our discussion. His desire and drive to be a UDT Sailor and then a Navy SEAL was relentless and in late 1964 he reported to training in Coronado. Moki said that training was challenging, he had no problem in the water at all, but the running was hard. Moki said, “One of the instructors said ‘You know Martin if you ran any faster you’d be walking backwards,’ and that really changed me. I got faster, during all that time I never thought about quitting, the drive was strong from when I was 8 or 9 years old, I just wanted to be with the teams!”

When I asked Moki what his favorite mission was or time with the SEALs he shared, “There are too many missions to choose, most of them were good, enjoyable and successful, but my favorite thing was being with the guys. I just love my teammates, I loved the fitness, getting ready and being ready for war.” He went on to say, “I always believed, even back then, that the whole world could be at peace, but they will still need the SEALs somewhere.”

Navy SEAL (Vietnam era) Moki Martin seen here honoring the memory of his comrades at the 2018 Memorial Day ceremonies. From left: Moki Martin, Emil Reutzel, Bill Lipman, Irish Flynn and Dennis McCormick, preparing to lay a wreath in honor of fallen UDT and SEAL comrades. (Photo by Joe Ditler)

Moki got married in June of 1967 in the Chapel of the Roses in Bonita, to the love of his life, Cindy. He was stationed at the Naval Amphibious Base and he and Cindy were looking for a house in Coronado, finally settling on one in 1974. He fell in love with his home on Pine St. where he could see the ocean from the roof. He said it was like being back in Maui.

When I asked him why he settled in Coronado he said, “It was always because of the Navy that I stayed here [in Coronado]; I love the Navy and I love this town. My wife and I bought our house here and for me it never got any better than Coronado. Coronado is just like Maui with the beach, but there is much more to do here. The people are always friendly. Also after my injury, on the medical side, the VA addresses my needs. My kids love it here too.” Moki said his wife Cindy loved all the flowers and greenery and especially the annual Flower Show. Cindy passed away two years ago, but Moki is glad that she loved this town so much.

A photo taken just days before the mission in which Moki was honored for his valor in combat. (photo provided by Moki Martin)

Moki participated in numerous SEAL missions, and in 2008, Martin was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat “V” for valor for his role in Operation Thunderhead after rescuing his two injured SEAL team members and preserving the body of Lt. Dry until recovery.

Moki was the founder of the SUPERFROG Half Ironman in Coronado that started in 1978. After hearing about the IronMan, a new race that was started in Hawaii, his competitive spirit peaked his interest. Moki said that training for the IronMan distance was too hard for someone who worked and so he wanted to start a training race and that is how the SUPERFROG came about. Moki took the IronMan distances and cut them in half. He was the first one to start that distance race, and he said he did it for his SEAL teammates so they could use it to train for the full IronMan.

Moki Martin on the bike during one of his competitions. Photo Courtesy of Moki Martin.

Moki was well-loved by his Navy brothers, I spoke with Captain (Ret.) John McTighe who said, “There is no finer Teammate than Moki Martin! He cared about everyone and made everyone around him a better person. No matter the challenge, Moki always had a positive attitude and took time to take care for those around him.”

Along with Moki’s exceptional performance as a SEAL, he was also an inspiring friend. “In addition to all of the great things Moki did in the SEAL Teams, he was also the driving force behind the Super Frog triathlon. Moki started SUPERFROG in the very early days of triathlon competitions. I believe up until the final SUPERFROG was held in 2019 it was the longest running half IronMan race,” said McTighe. “Moki inspired me to take up triathlons. He was a fierce competitor who would lift you up with words of encouragement as he
passed you on the course. Like most of his Teammates, I never came close to catching Moki.”

In 1982 Moki suffered an injury during a morning training bike ride down Silver Strand, leaving him a quadriplegic. It was a great shock and loss for Moki, his family and the SEAL Community; but Moki stayed active, teaching and lecturing with Navy Special Warfare Command for almost 20 years, until COVID put an end to his involvement. Moki also went to San Diego State and earned his degree in Arts and Letters and still loves drawing and art. He remained active with the SuperFrog Triathlon, and with the Coronado community and was a recipient of the Coronado Key to the City for heroism. Today, he finds joy in playing with his grandson and continuing to practice his art and drawing. If you see Moki around town, say hello and smile knowing that you are in the presence of a legend, a great and humble man.

Art by Moki Martin. Moki’s art is displayed at Balboa Naval Medical Center. (photo provided by Moki Martin)

Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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