By Ashleigh Fields,
AFRO Assistant Editor,
On the steps outside the Capitol, the place where Congress convenes daily, a significant and selfless hero was honored. The steadfast story of Sergeant Arthur Martin was documented by Congressman Glenn Ivey (D-MD-4) on Nov. 6. Martin was celebrated for his service in the United States Military Advisory Group and the third Radio Research Unit–programs that most Americans did not know existed, despite their crucial contributions to the country during the Vietnam War.
“We were known as ‘Kennedy’s boys,’ who went over to stop the spread of communism in southeast Asia,” recalled Martin.
He explained how he was the only Black soldier to be selected as one of 15 young men designated by the president to help locate enemy signals and monitor the launching of rockets in Okinawa and eventually the Philippines. Martin drew upon his training as an electrical engineering graduate of the Tuskegee Institute and the U.S. Army Security Agency Training Center and School (ASATC&S) at Fort Devens, Mass.
However, neither program could prepare him for the unprecedented chemical exposure he would face while serving abroad.
“It was like being in an experimental lab and we learned as we went along,” shared Martin. “We didn’t have helmets or jackets, we had civilian clothes and weapons.”
While living in enemy territory, Martin found it hard to blend in with the country’s natives.
“I was a Black guy four feet taller than the average Filipino man,” recalls the veteran. This made him an easy target for attacks and put him at great risk of being imprisoned as a political criminal. In spite of overcoming this battle, a small and more deadly force that Martin was unaware of would pose the greatest threat to his stability and health.
The chemical dioxin, more commonly known as “Agent Orange” was unleashed by the United States military to detect the North Vietnamese Army base camps and routes throughout the nation.
“They wanted to prevent the enemy from hiding in the jungle but when they sprayed it affected friend and enemy alike,” Martin expressed.
The consequences would prove to be crippling. Martin returned home and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma shortly thereafter.
“It caused me to be paralyzed and if it wasn’t for my degree from Tuskegee and the job at the NATO Oceanographic Office I obtained before entering the military, I would not have been able to pay for my medical expenses,” he said. “I was left to fend for myself medically and the doctors weren’t familiar with the effects of Agent Orange which caused the multiple myeloma or the post-traumatic stress disorder.”
To make matters worse, Martin could not receive veterans benefits due to the fact that all of the work he completed was a secret to the American public, Congress and his fellow soldiers.
“It was something I never expected in my whole lifetime,” said Martin, who also developed prostate cancer, hearing loss and post traumatic stress disorder from his experience in war. “I reached out for help but I was repeatedly told, ‘When you leave here, leave everything that comes with it.’ And so I did.”
For decades, he managed to survive while suffering and unable to publicly acknowledge his contribution to our country. However, on Nov. 6, Congressman Glenn Ivey (D-MD-4) held an intimate ceremony to salute Martin for his service.
“I know what sacrifices our men and women in uniform make for our way of life. Folks like Sergeant Arthur Martin deserve to be recognized and thanked for their service to our country. A congressional citation is just a way we can remind him that a grateful nation thanks him,” Congressman Ivey told the AFRO. “His service medals being delayed did not end up being a denial of his service and so it is why we honor him for his patience and patriotism today, yesterday and always.”
Friends and family joined him at the event but the proudest of them all was his wife of over 30 years, Emma Lois Martin.
“I am genuinely happy for him, I can’t think of a more deserving person. He has really paid his dues. He got Agent Orange but he’s never been angry. He’s had three types of cancer at the same time but he preserved and triumphed,” she said. “In the midst of the stress and adversity on his job he never let that interfere with his family or relationship with God. That is worthy for many people to know. I am just so happy that he has been the face of a Black man that other Black men could see and understand that they too could succeed as a Black person and a Southerner.”
The story of his career has stayed within the family and their daughter Pamela Martin has made it a point to amplify its reach. She was instrumental in securing the congressional citation and ensuring that the right version of history lived on for generations.
“The reason I survived and a lot of veterans didn’t was because of God, my education, my wife and my mother’s teaching,” Martin told the AFRO. “I didn’t want to do anything that she wouldn’t ever approve of.”