Prestigious Medal Being Awarded 60 Years After Crash

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A U.S. Army Captain will posthumously receive the Legion of Merit during an award ceremony scheduled for March 26, at 1 p.m. at Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, here.

Capt. Samuel P. Martin III, who died in 1996, has earned the Legion of Merit for his actions following a Sabena Airlines crash on Sept. 18, 1946. The award will be presented to Capt. Martin’s son, Dr. William Martin, of Gainesville, Fla., by Rear Adm. David W. Kunkel, Commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District.

The ceremony will include remarks from Dr. William Martin, Capt. Michael Emerson, Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, and Rear Adm. Kunkel.

Members from the Ancient Order of the Pterodactyl organization were researching the Sabena Airlines crash and noticed that everyone involved in the rescue mission received recognition for their service, except Capt. Martin.

Capt. Martin is being recognized for outstanding meritorious service in the face of nearly insurmountable odds while attending to the survivors of the 1946 Sabena Airlines crash, approximately 22 miles from Gander Airport, Newfoundland. Martin was the only medical doctor in the 50-plus member rescue team. Due to the extremely remote location of the crash, Martin, and his portion of the initial rescue party, had to be flown in by Coast Guard aircraft to a small lake about five miles from the crash site. The team transferred into rubber dinghies before braving rapids on a small river and then traversing the remaining distance through almost impenetrable brush and forest.

Upon reaching the crash site, nearly 39 hours after the crash, Martin ascertained that 18 people had survived and then directed the drop of medical supplies, food, water, blankets and other survival equipment. All but two of the survivors were severely injured and in shock due to trauma and loss of blood. During triage of the survivors, Martin battled the elements, with temperatures never over 50 degrees in daytime and in the 40’s at night with almost continuous rain and mist, to save these people from infection, shock and loss of blood. The patients’ immobilizing injuries demanded rescue by helicopter. Two Coast Guard helicopters were disassembled and loaded on military transport to Gander Airport, where they were reassembled and readied for flight. On Sept. 22, 1946, the last survivor was transported to Gander Hospital and Martin was extracted, having completed a three and a half day all-consuming effort. His actions, medical skills, and valor were instrumental in the rescue and recovery of the survivors who would have otherwise perished.

Martin passed away at the age of 80 in Gainesville, Fla. He is survived by his three children Dr. William Martin, Dr. Samuel Martin IV and Dr. Celia Martin.

For more information on this remarkable case, please visit the Coast Guard Aviation Association.

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