JR Martinez: AMC's Real-life War Veteran — Part 2

Soap Opera Weekly had such a great response to the interview with ALL MY CHILDREN’s JR Martinez, Brot’s portrayer, that we’ve been featuring extra tidbits from it on our site. Here’s Part 2.

Soap Opera Weekly: What kind of homecoming did you receive when you were released from the hospital?

JR Martinez: That was what did it for me — that homecoming. When I got out of the hospital, I was flying home, [and when we landed] I was in the middle of the plane, and the lady who was escorting me started getting up, and I said, “No, I want to get off last because I know my friends and family will be there, and I don’t want to hold anybody up. Let them get off the plane first.” So I get off the plane, and everyone that I let get off the plane was on both sides of the walkway applauding. I was like, “That is cool!” As soon as I got to the baggage claim area, I saw my closest friends, and it was emotional for me because that was the first time that anyone outside of the hospital had seen me that way. [Then] we took the 30-minute ride into Dalton, [Ga.,] with this 10- to 15-car escort. When we [got off at the] exit, we stopped because the light was red. The light turned green, and I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, and I said, “All right, man, go.” He’s like, “No, I think you should get out of the car.” I looked at him like, “What do you mean, get out of the car? We’re in the middle of the [exit] ramp, I’m not getting out of the car!” I was thinking, “What a great storyline: Soldier comes back from the war, he survives, but he’s hanging out with his friends, and they make him get out of the car on a ramp, and he gets hit and doesn’t make it.” I thought to myself, “I am not getting out of the car.” Out of the blue, there came this replica of a 1937 Mercedes Benz convertible. [The driver] was the husband of my former principal. He pulled up and said, “Hi, JR; get in the car!” I got into the car with my friend and I sat in the back. As we turned onto Walnut Avenue, there were hundreds of people on both sides of the road with signs, chanting, crying and applauding, and I was just waving. I felt like Mr. America. I looked to my left, [and] in the parking lot of the Kmart there were thousands of people, [and] a stage setup with a podium and microphone. It was all the guys I played football with — it was my closest friends — and they all had something great to say about me. It was the first time I got to say a few words, and it was the first time I got to see people outside of the hospital. They didn’t have to say, “You look great.” They were going to tell me the truth. Every one of those 3,000-plus-people said, “We love you, you’re still beautiful, we don’t care about this; we loved you all along for who you were as a person.” It really helped me understand and believe that people can look past the scars, and that I needed to look past the scars.

Weekly: How did you start doing motivational speaking?

Martinez: I was in and out of San Antonio Hospital for two-and-a-half years. I had 32 surgeries in those two-and-a-half years. The army was great; they said, “This is your new job; you just go to your therapy and have your surgeries, go to your appointments and you’re good.” After a couple of weeks, you get bored. One day, one of my nurses said, “JR, would you mind talking to one of my patients? He’s just seen his [burned] body and he’s not doing so well.” I said, “Why not? I’d be more than happy to.” When I walked in, there was a negative setting — it was dark. I talked to him for about 45 minutes. As I was walking out the door, I stopped and turned around, and the curtain was halfway open and the light above his bed was on. There was light in the room. I thought to myself, “I had an impact on this guy.” I called my mom and said, “I think I was kept in this world to use my experience to help other people.” She kind of laughed and said, “I think you’re right.” I hung up and ran right back to the hospital, because that became my job. The Public Affairs office at the hospital picked up on what I was doing, and I became the face and spokesman of the hospital and for troops. They started inviting me to luncheons to do five- to 10-minute speeches to tell them who I was and what happened to me. They started saying, “Wow, this kid has a really good speaking ability [and can] deliver a message.” They started putting me in the public eye, from San Antonio public news, to papers, radio and TV — 60 MINUTES, and then I jumped on OPRAH, then CNN and Fox News. I started to see that I made an impact, and I loved it and wanted to continue it.

Weekly: Are you nervous about telling Brot’s story?

Martinez: I’m basically giving the audience the understanding that there is life at the end of the tunnel. Even though this storyline is about a a war veteran, it’s also a story about war. People use the word war in so many different ways. War can be fighting the war on cancer, the war [that comes] with a divorce, the war [that happens after] losing a child — all of these different things people call war, as well, because it’s a battle you’re consistently fighting. A relationship, that’s war. For me, to be able to let people know about this war and let people know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, [I’m] not fearful, nor do I have any worries that people [won’t] be appreciative and responsive to it.