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Exemplary service


Almost 30 years have passed since the transformative decision was made by the Pentagon to station a newly created light infantry division at Fort Drum. North country residents benefitting from the phenomenal growth and economic expansion that have accompanied the post’s development owe a debt of gratitude to David O’B. Martin, our congressman who led the campaign on behalf of Fort Drum. Mr. Martin, 68, died Tuesday at his West Virginia home.

Mr. Martin, a native of Canton and scion of the Martin family which served the county for generations, was a well-recognized north country political leader before he was first elected congressman in 1980.

He had served as a St. Lawrence County legislator for three years and then as a state assemblyman from 1977 to 1980, when he went on to succeed retiring Rep. Robert C. McEwen to win his first term in Congress. He held the post for 12 years, winning overwhelming voter support to easily turn aside any challenger.

Mr. Martin’s first congressional election was a timely victory for him and the future of New York state that led to a crucial understanding with President Reagan. In 1981, the president needed a temporary home for nearly 10,000 Haitian refugees fleeing their homeland along with several hundred Cubans.

President Reagan looked north to Fort Drum, which was then mainly a National Guard and Army Reserve training center. In exchange for his support, Rep. Martin received presidential assurances of accelerated military spending at the post. The Haitians never came north, but the promised expansion went forward. It put the installation in a strong position to be competitive when the Defense Department was looking for a home for what would be the 10th Mountain Division.

Mr. Martin was not deterred when, as he recalled in a recent letter to the editor, he heard that Fort Drum was not the Army’s first choice for the new division. Instead, he helped mobilize a well-organized campaign of community and government leaders at every level to persuade the Army otherwise. They persevered, and in September 1984, Fort Drum was selected.

The decision led to the first half-billion dollar investment in a new, modern installation. Mr. Martin was able to use his position on the influential House Armed Services Committee to ensure continued investments that have made Fort Drum a premier post and home to thousands of men and women who have served in every major combat operation since then.

He was senior Republican member of the Military Installations Subcommitee and vice chairman of the Morale, Welfare and Recreational Panel overseeing military commissaries, exchanges and related activities. He also served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Fort Drum topped a lengthy list of accomplishments for Mr. Martin in his congressional service to the north country, many of them important to us today.

It was Rep. Martin, a Marine veteran, who won approval for the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a clinic serving Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties. He helped write a law blocking winter navigation on the St. Lawrence River and supported legislation to curb acid rain in the Adirondacks. He also advocated a long-range solution to fluctuating Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River water levels.

He fought cuts to federal impact aid to school districts with military students and worked on behalf of north country dairy farmers. After his departure from Congress, Mr. Martin advised his successor, Rep. John M. McHugh, now Army secretary, during base closure deliberations that kept Fort Drum and, initially, Plattsburgh Air Force Base off the list of closings.

Mr. Martin, often described as a workaholic, was popular among his colleagues when he retired 1992 after six terms. He was a coalition-builder.

Mr. Martin able to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle — Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative in Albany and Washington — for the good of New York. Mr. Martin exemplified the type of congressman we need today.

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