Percy “Jimmy” Martin III was a highly decorated soldier who earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star while deployed in Vietnam. He was a heroic figure at home, too, overcoming polio to achieve success as an entrepreneur.
Mr. Martin, 67, an Akron native, died Sunday after a short bout with cancer. Family members said it was fitting that he died on Veterans Day.
Mr. Martin, who spent five years in the Army, was part of the elite Airborne Infantry Special Forces. He was awarded the Silver Star for service in the Dominican Republic.
A former Summit County sheriff’s deputy, federal officer and firearms instructor, Mr. Martin recently was the owner of a funeral escort service in Akron.
According to family members, Mr. Martin put his heart into every task. He earned a black belt in karate and was a marksman while serving the 508th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division.
He refused to let childhood polio cripple his ambitions. He became a star athlete at Buchtel High School, where he was an All-City performer in track and field. He attended the University of Akron and graduated from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga.
According to family members, he was a selfless man, a man of conviction and of courage. He narrowly escaped death while fighting on the front lines in Vietnam and parachuting into enemy territory.
“He’s never been afraid of anything, including death,” said his sister, Marie Waters. “He said he experienced death once before on the operating table when he was shot in Vietnam and was brought back to life.”
Family said he didn’t blink when doctors told him he had incurable cancer. He put his affairs in order and made sure he completed one last civic duty: He drove himself to cast his vote before Election Day.
“Why should I go through chemotherapy or radiation and be sick just to prolong my life? That’s not quality living,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “They say the cancer is terminal, but I’ll have time to get everything I need done. It is what it is. I can’t change things if it’s my time.”
He told his family he had only two to three weeks to live and wouldn’t see another birthday or Thanksgiving.
“I expected him to say he was going to fight it to the end, but he told me very calmly he was going to die and said he was at peace with it and it was out of his hands,” said his son, Jamie Martin of California. “I was OK if he was OK with it.”
Mr. Martin continued as the family’s caretaker. He was the family member who called just to check on you or to share information he thought you might need, relatives said.
“He called once a week. He was humorous and was still cracking jokes in the hospital,” said his daughter, Contia Martin of Columbus. “When we grew up, we had a village all around us. Every street in the neighborhood had a family member.”
Fearless in life, in battle
Family and friends talked about his fearless acts as a teenager — from his Evel Knievel-like stunts with his bicycle on homemade board ramps to playing Tarzan swinging from a rope in the tree through the garage.
“He was like that in the service, too,” his sister said. “In Vietnam, they were warned not to go into any of the hutches because the doors were booby-trapped, so to get around that he would kick the door open, jump to the side, wait for the boom and then go in.”
She said Mr. Martin once was left behind after he was shot in the leg from an ambush. But a member of his platoon, whom he had saved during an earlier firefight in Vietnam, returned to see if he had survived.
In a 1966 Beacon Journal article, he explained how he wiped out a machine gun nest in the Dominican Republic as the point man for his platoon.
“When I first saw the machine gun, it was right in front of me,” Mr. Martin, then a corporal said. “I knew I couldn’t go back, so I started running toward it. They began firing at me, but the shots were falling short.”
About 20 yards from the gun, he tossed a hand grenade, then killed other rebels with his automatic rifle. Then he crossed the street, again under hostile fire and placed a grenade on a locked door. The live grenade rolled off. He retrieved it, replaced it and managed to reach cover just as the grenade exploded.
He was awarded the Silver Star — the nation’s third highest medal — for his feat.
Friends said his mind worked nonstop. He tried various business ventures and ended up starting a funeral escort business in 2004 after researching the idea and finding there is nothing in the law requiring only police escorts for funerals. He won a court battle that allowed him to continue his business.
Mr. Martin is survived by his wife, Lucy; children Monique, Sonya (Kevin) Skipper, Tita, Contia, Miyoshee, Jamie, Peter, Marlon (Laura) Balana, O’Dalee Balana and Mabelle (James) Miller; a sister, Marie (Andrew) Waters and brother-in-law Barnest Trevillion.
Visitation will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday at Turner & Rhoden Memorial Home, 1101 Palmetto Ave. The memorial service will follow at 6 p.m.
Burial will be at 9 a.m. Friday at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Seville.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.