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‘A true patriot’: York County’s T.J. Martin, twice a prisoner of war, dies at 93

Jeff Sochko/Special to The Herald

T.J. Martin didn’t just survive being a prisoner of war once. He survived twice.

He was captured in 1951, then again in 1952.

But he never gave up.

Martin spent more than two years as a captive in Korea. Then he came home to York County and spent the rest of his life volunteering for veterans in York County, throughout South Carolina and around the country.

Martin, 93, died Monday, according to an obituary from Bratton Funeral Home in the city of York, S.C..

When Martin, a U.S. Army veteran, spoke to The Herald over the years about other prisoners of war, he would talk of service to country and community that few people ever are asked to give.

He said simply that prisoners of war shared an awful experience but fought to survive so that afterwards they could make the world a better place. Of Fort Mill’s Paul Luckadoo, a World War II POW who died in 2016, Martin said at the time: “Paul’s service to his country will never be forgotten, and we will never forget him.”

Of Gene Newton, a Rock Hill POW who died in 2011, Martin said then: “Gene Newton knew that we shared something awful, yet something special. He was decent and humble. He was one of us.”

Martin said this in 2007 of his time in captivity: “It leaves a mark when you wake up beside a man who has frozen to death. Or wake up next to a man who has starved to death. Or next to man whose limbs are bloated from disease.”

Martin wanted to help others for the rest of his life.

“T.J. was an American patriot in the truest sense of the word,” said Joe Medlin, an Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran who for many years was director of York County’s veterans affairs office. Medlin and Martin worked together for years on the county’s veterans advisory council and other veterans projects.

“Even after having been a prisoner of war, twice, he continued to give back by serving with the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and other organizations,” Medlin said. “T.J. Martin will certainly be missed.”

Martin was for years the commander of South Carolina’s Ex-Prisoner of War group. He led the charge to have those people honored statewide by then Gov. Nikki Haley in 2015.

Martin helped create and run York’s American Legion post. He chaired the county’s veterans advisory council for decades, and was one of the founders of York County’s annual Memorial Day tribute to military members who died in wars. He helped start the city of York’s annual Veterans Day parade, and organized it for years.

Jim Carter, another York County veteran who was involved with York’s American Legion Post and veterans office, said Martin cared deeply about service to community and country.

Ronnie Taylor, also a York County veteran and close friend, said Martin will be honored among others in the county’s Memorial Day weekend service in late May in York.

Viewing for Martin is Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Bratton Funeral Home in York, according to the obituary. The funeral with full military honors is 11 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home.