Originally created 07/04/99

Visiting an old pal for Fourth

Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.

-- Josh Billings

Ted Martin grew up in Boston, knew the Kennedys, went to Harvard, fought in World War II, has lived past 80 and worked for newspapers in Savannah, Minneapolis and Atlanta.

Any one of those qualities would have impressed me, but their cumulative collection has always filled me with respect.

He is also a nice guy -- one of the finest with which I ever worked. Polite, yet quick-witted. Almost British, in a way.

We used to say the way to make Ted smile all week was to tell him one good joke on Monday morning.

I dropped by to see him Friday in the spinal unit of Augusta's Veterans Hospital.

He didn't recognize me when I walked in. (You get gray and heavier after 10 years).

And I didn't recognize him.

"Where's your mustache?" I asked.

"Shaved it off," he said, a touch of Boston still in his accent. "Not as concerned with how I look, I guess."

He looks OK -- as well as anyone lying in a bed with a big brace collared around his neck.

"I can stand up," he reported with some irritation, "I just get dizzy."

We chatted about old times, which meant I was teasing him -- an old pastime we shared.

"Did you really know the Kennedys?" I asked for the hundredth time.

"I knew where they lived," he finally admitted.

"You still like the Braves?"

"The wrong team left Boston," he said sadly, recalling the early 1950s when his baseball heroes left for Milwaukee.

"Tell me about Harvard again," I said.

"That was just a summer school," he said drolly, "then I had to go to the war."

"Spanish-American?" I taunted.

"Europe. 315th Transport." he said stiffly, citing the dates of his enlistment in 1942, and the date of his discharge in October 1945.

Ted came to Augusta from his home in Sparta after a fall. He hopes to go home when he gets his strength back.

He is in a room with three other beds -- two of them occupied -- and his care appears to be first rate and comfortable. I hope it stays that way.

Plans have been announced by the Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center to lay off 170 employees. Such a move is designed to "improve efficiency," which taxpayers like you and me heartily applaud.

But I would hate it if any of that improved efficiency would come at the expense of diminished care for veterans like Ted Martin -- the ones who served their country years ago so we could spend today lighting firecrackers and enjoying cookouts.

Ted probably won't make it outside tonight to watch any fireworks, but he's sure to have some Fourth of July visitors.

He'll be 81, and it's the day he and America both celebrate a birthday.

Bill Kirby can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 107, or bkirby@augustachronicle.com.


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