Locals rally around soul surfer and combat veteran


The Vietnam War took a heavy toll on resident Denny Martin.

He’s undergone 25 surgeries for injuries sustained during combat, leaving him strapped financially. Fighting also jarred his teeth loose. So years later, he’s badly in need of dental work.

That’s why friends recently put together a fundraiser in his honor, slated for 7-10 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Cardiff bar Tower 13. They hope to raise $15,000 for implants, crowns and other dental procedures.

“Wow, it’s amazing — it’s really emotional to see people pull together like this for you,” Martin said this week.

After the war, surfing proved therapeutic for Martin, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He hit the water as often as possible, becoming a familiar face at local breaks like Pipes.

“Surfing, in a sense, has saved his life,” said long-time friend Joel Bartlett, who spearheaded the event.

Bartlett added Martin is giving, friendly and quick to smile — the embodiment of a soul surfer.

When Bartlett recently heard about Martin’s dental woes, he was troubled.

“I couldn’t sleep; I was tossing and turning,” Bartlett said. “He’s given so much to his country, and he should get the best. I knew something should be done.”

He added: “A lot of locals and businesses are pitching in for the fundraiser because Denny has given a lot to his country, and he’s always willing to help out a friend. People really want to pay it forward.”

Following multiple leg surgeries, Martin was cleared this summer to paddle out again. Yet a month ago, a high-tide wave pitched him into the ocean floor, resulting in some of his already loose teeth falling out days later.

In response, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs proposed pulling out all of his top and bottom teeth and replacing them with dentures. This approach would likely limit how much he can surf and potentially cause gum issues, Martin believes.

Although the VA has operated on him numerous times in the past, he’s also turned to private doctors who offered better care. Such is the case again; a private dentist is ready to begin operating once the money is raised.

“The VA is sometimes looking for the cheapest and quickest solution,” Martin said. “I feel fortunate people think I deserve better.”

Martin moved to Cardiff in his teens, enjoying life as a surfer. His world, however, was turned upside down in 1968 when he was drafted into the Army. About six months later, he arrived in Vietnam as part of a reconnaissance unit.

“You watch war movies, but you don’t really know what war is until you’re there,” Martin said. “I wish that on nobody.”

During combat he was exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical that the U.S. Military sprayed to destroy insurgents’ crops and trees. It has been linked to severe illnesses.

Just outside of the city Ky Ninh, he was blown from a guard tower by a rocket attack. The impact compressed several discs in his back, fractured his hip, knocked many of his teeth loose and tore his right rotator cuff.

Despite the injuries, a mere six weeks later, he was sent into a bloody firefight in underground tunnels.

“Over 200 of us were killed,” Martin said, pausing and choking back tears.

He continued: “There were only 17 that lived … I’m sorry I can’t talk about that.”

While Martin gave a lot for his country, he didn’t feel like a hero upon returning home on July 4, 1969. He was told flying in uniform — though free — ran the risk of protestors hounding him. So Martin opted to pay for his airfare.

“We weren’t heroes; we were bad guys … it was really weird,” Martin said.

Martin was so shell-shocked that the sound of fireworks sent him diving to the ground. Suicidal and unable to cope with day-to-day life, he was later admitted into a psychiatric ward.

However, Martin slowly pieced his life back together, crediting counseling and surfing.

“Surfing has definitely pulled me out of some dark holes,” Martin said.

When not surfing, he ran a successful contracting business, retiring more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s spent a great deal on private medical care, bringing him near financial collapse.

If enough funds are raised, it would take up to two years to restore his teeth. From there, his dream is to spend more time in the water.

And he’s hopeful his medical problems will soon be behind him.

“They’re running out of parts to cut on and replace,” Martin joked.

The Tower 13 fundraiser will feature a raffle, live music and appetizers. Famed surfers Steve Walden and Gregory Harrison will also be on hand.

The event calls for a $20 donation at the door.

For those who can’t attend, donate at