Retired United States Air Force Capt. Jennifer (Martin) Nightingale never knew her grandfather. Air Force Maj. Andrew Franklin Martin, Jr. died while flying a mission during the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1954. A fighter pilot who flew missions in World War II and the Korean War, he died when his plane caught fire and he ejected into the stormy East China Sea.
So Nightingale, a 2003 CGA graduate, understands the meaning behind the phrase “Gold Star Family.” Speaking at Culver Academies’ Gold Star service on Memorial Day, she said there are approximately one million American families who have lost sons or daughters in conflicts, and she believes the way to preserve the memory of their sacrifice is to tell her own grandfather’s story.
Frank Martin left college just one semester shy of graduation to enlist. He joined the Army Air Corps shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, she said, which was “a defining moment for a generation.”
He was 21 years old when he dropped out of college. He received his field commission and started flying a P47 Thunderbolt as a fighter escort. Over the years, he served in various capacities as the Army Air Corps evolved into the Air Force. In November 1954, he was named the commander of a fighter squadron at the new base on Okinawa, Japan. He died a month later at the age of 34, leaving behind a wife and three young sons.
“He knew he had a talent, which was flying,” Nightingale said. His legacy is not his death, but his life. It is in the number of pilots he trained and mentored. And his life has served as source of inspiration within the family.
After Culver, she attended the University of Texas at San Antonio and was a member of the Air Force ROTC Detachment 842. She was commissioned as an Air Force Space and Missile Officer in 2007.
Nightingale served in the 740th Missile Squadron, 91st Operations Group, 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. She was the Missile Combat Crew Commander, Alternate Command Post. When she retired in 2012, she was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service.
She currently works as a real estate tax and acquisition specialist for PricewaterhouseCoopers and resides in Denver with her husband, Air Force Maj. Phil Nightingale.
During her service, Nightingale said, she often had to try to reach a level of perfection that was impossible to attain. And she picked up this piece of wisdom: That you don’t have to be perfect to do great things. You don’t have to be a born hero or a natural leader to be exactly what is needed. Heroes don’t have to be the smartest, strongest, or even the bravest, but they are the ones who become what is needed. They show up day-in and day-out and perform as part of the team – despite the personal sacrifices.
When she started her talk, Nightingale quoted Hugh McCall, who wrote about his father and other American Revolution heroes: “The blood which flowed from the suffering patriots that day, should never be forgotten; and the precious jewel which was purchased by it, should be preserved with courage and remembered with gratitude, by succeeding generations.”
She finished by telling the audience, “Service has a funny way of finding us, so when it comes calling, you must be ready and willing to stand up and meet the challenges of our time.” Today’s military men and women are the most capable ever, but they are relying on all citizens to do their part. “We must be vigilant and strong of mind and purpose,” Nightingale added, because “tyranny often comes slowly when our guard is down.”
Freedom is the gift given to us by our heroes who sacrificed “that last full measure,” she said, and it our responsibility to protect “that precious jewel of liberty. With God’s help we will become worthy custodians.”