Air Force vet recalls science career

By Patricia Ann Speelman -

Joseph Martino at work in his office as an Air Force engineer in the 1960s.

Joseph Martino at work in his office as an Air Force engineer in the 1960s.

Martino hangs out with his cat, Zoe, in his Sidney home, Thursday, Nov. 8.

Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

Editor’s note: For Veterans Day each year, the Sidney Daily News profiles a local military veteran. Often they have seen combat. This year, we profile someone who’s contribution was on the quieter side: he changed aviation forever.

SIDNEY — Twenty-first-century aviation should be very glad that in 1949, Navy ROTC recruits at Miami University were required to pass an eye test.

That’s when, newly graduated from Howland High School near Warren, freshman Joseph Martino showed up to enlist. Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Martino has been a Sidney resident since 1988.

In high school, he joined the Naval Reserve at 17, because “my father and two cousins had been in the Navy during (World War II). I hoped being in the Reserve would get me into Navy ROTC,” he said, recently. It didn’t.

That eye test? He didn’t pass it.

Undeterred, he went to talk to the folks running the Air Force ROTC.

“The Air Force (ROTC) had just started at Miami. It was their first year. They didn’t have an eye test, so I got in,” he laughed.

Martino laughs a lot as he recounts his 25-year career in the service. The twinkle in his eye bespeaks his dry wit. Those eyes light up when cats, Zoe and Chloe, climb all over him as we talk, sitting comfortably in his historic home.

It was important to Martino to join the ROTC.

“Dad had been in the service. I felt I should be, too,” he said.

At Miami on a scholarship, he majored in physics and graduated in 1953 with a commission in the Air Force as a second lieutenant.

“The first thing the Air Force did was send me to Purdue for a master’s degree,” he said. It was not to be a degree in physics, however. The Air Force needed electrical engineers.

“I had done a lot of experimenting with radio and had a ham license, so it was not a bad fit,” he said. The Air Force picked up the tab for his education, but required a three-year commitment from Martino.

His first assignmet, Master of Science in hand, was at Wright Field. While there, he married Mary Bouquot, of Sidney. Then, he applied to Ohio State University to study for a doctorate. He was accepted and again, the Air Force picked up the tab. This time, he was required to study math with a major in statistics.

“And I incurred another three-year commitment,” he laughed. “By the time that commitment was over, I was half way to 20. ‘I might as well stay in and go for 20,’ I thought.”

He was sent to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Washington, D.C., where he investigated the reliability and quality control of electronic equipment.

He published a paper about using air power for counter insurgency. It had not been an assignment, but it was research he was interested in.

“It was a big topic of the day,” he said. That interest soon took him and his growing family halfway around the world to Bangkok, Thailand. The Department of Defense was setting up two branches of the Advance Research Project Agency, one in Bangkok and one in Saigon, Vietnam.

“I had written that paper, and the Air Force was called on to supply bodies,” he said. It was just his second trip abroad. He had spent a brief time in Panama a few years before.

The Martinos spent two years in Thailand. Joseph worked on testing means of detecting intruders into protected areas.

“Most of the stuff was developed in the states and sent over to ‘see if this works,’” he said. He was one of about a dozen Americans, a like number of Thais and several British and Australian “strays.”

At the end of his stay, he went back to Washington and back to mathematics.

“I walked back in like I had never been gone,” he laughed. “Same desk, same job.” It wasn’t long, though, before he was sent to the Armed Forces Staff College and then again to Wright Field in Dayton where he worked on missile guidance systems.

“I was responsible for overseeing contracts with companies that were building them. I had to understand everything and make sure they were doing it right,” he said. But the Air Force wasn’t done with his training, yet. He also attended the Armed Forces War College in Montgomery, Alabama.

“In the Staff College, they train you to do joint staff work, how to get along with other services. In the War College, they teach you how to run a war,” he said. Graduation from War College brought his promotion to colonel.

“Normally, colonels are put in charge of a lab. Colonels were coming in from all over the country (to Wright Field) to head labs. I’m thinking, ‘What are they going to do with me?’” he said.

What they did was make Martino director of the Defense Electonics Engineering Supply Center in Dayton. He wrote specifications and standards for electronic parts.

He retired from the military in 1975.

“They weren’t going to make me a general and if they weren’t going to make me a general, I wasn’t going to stick around,” he laughed again.

His wife, Mary, died in 1988. He married Nan in 2000.

And what about changing aviation forever? What Martino is most proud of in his military and private sector career —following retirement from the Air Force, he became an engineer at the University of Dayton Research Institute, from which he retired in 1993 — was a process he developed early on for the Air Force.

“I was working on inertial guidance systems (in airplanes), keeping track of where you are by measuring what has happened to you. The typical system at the time had two accelerometers measuring north/south and east/west. They had to be kept level, so there were gyroscopes to keep them level.

“I said, ‘Let’s do away with level platform and measure what the rotations have been and use the computer to keep track of what way the accelerometers are pointed,’” he said. The process reduced the size and weight in the planes considerably and is still in use today.

“The guidance system was totally unheard of at the time. It wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t done it. It was only possible because of advances in computers. I recognized that. I saw the potential and pushed it,” he added.

Martino’s interest in science naturally led to an interest in science fiction. It’s his favorite genre to read — he especially likes the stories by Robert Heinlein — and he has attended a number of science fiction conventions.

“I sold a lot of stories (to a magazine that was then called Astounding Science Fiction and is now called Analog) in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. It’s a hobby that paid,” he said. He also published a murder mystery novel, “The Justice Cooperative.”

Now he’s at work on another novel.

And he’s grateful to the Air Force for putting him through school and giving him opportunities to make a difference.

“I really couldn’t have done it without the Air Force,” he said. Just think what wouldn’t have happened if he had passed that Navy eye test.

Joseph Martino at work in his office as an Air Force engineer in the 1960s. Martino at work in his office as an Air Force engineer in the 1960s.

Martino hangs out with his cat, Zoe, in his Sidney home, Thursday, Nov. 8. hangs out with his cat, Zoe, in his Sidney home, Thursday, Nov. 8. Luke Gronneberg | Sidney Daily News

By Patricia Ann Speelman

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.