A World War II veteran whose home was robbed last month got his own special Veterans Day tribute from about 30 volunteers who teamed up to do repairs and cleaning at his home on Monday.
A troupe of young Navy and Army recruits clipped bushes, cleaned carpets and rolled on fresh coats of paint to spruce up 92-year-old Josef Martin's east-central Fresno residence.
Martin was pistol-whipped when robbers broke into his house in late October. He was then thrown into a closet as the assailants ransacked his home, stealing $200 from under a rug and jewelry before getting away. The robbers have not been caught.
After hearing Martin's story in The Fresno Bee, Navy Petty Officer Chris Martin — who is not related to Josef Martin — decided to chip in. With the help of local and national businesses, he got more than $500 in donated carpet and cash to buy supplies.
"I think the parades and the events and all those things are important. It gives the community an opportunity to thank veterans for what they're doing," Chris Martin said, "but I think this, what we're doing right now, is going to have an immediate and direct impact on his quality of life."
Volunteers installed a new kitchen sink faucet, dusted family portraits and dug up dead plants.
Navy veteran Richard Alvarez, 28, brushed on white paint in a spare bedroom with his friend Ruben Alvarado, 25.
The pair came up from Kingsburg to help after hearing about the volunteer opportunity through a friend.
"This is a behind-the-scenes kind of thing. People don't see what's going on with veterans who do need help with their homes," Alvarado said.
Brother and sister Kyle and Kyndra Corbin, both students at Clovis High, swept an outdoor patio and raked the yard. Kyndra, 17, is headed to Navy boot camp next summer and showed up because she knew it would "help him out a lot."
"Without us he would have a really hard time taking care of his house," she said.
Martin served in the Army for nine years as a corporal and tank driver, and was decorated for fighting in several battles, including the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.
One of his most prized possessions from the war — a ring made for him by a prisoner of war from a French silver dollar — was snatched during the robbery.
The thieves left behind something, too: a foot-wide hole in the closet wall, smashed in by Martin's head when they threw him inside.
The wall's green paint has flaked away around the crater. As Martin looked at it, he said the sense of insecurity wrought by the robbers is still with him.
"I've been (in this neighborhood) almost 60 years, but people from all over come over here, look for old people and they rob them," he said. "You're not safe anymore, the world has changed a lot."
He has no plans to install a security system — robbers would get past it, he said — but said he finds faith and resolve by seeing members of the military "family" lend a hand.
"It makes me proud that I belong," he said.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, firstname.lastname@example.org or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.