When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned that Paul Martin Sr. of Adel had been wounded at Fort Hood, editors told reporter Ralph Ellis to drive 3-1/2 hours and find out how the little town in South Georgia was taking the news. A postman gave him Martin’s old address from memory and from then on, one interview led to another. He spoke to Martin by phone for this story.
ADEL — In the past 2-1/2 weeks, Paul Martin Sr. has been wounded in the Fort Hood massacre, interviewed by USA Today and gotten to know former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama while wearing a loose-fitting hospital gown.
“Obama came in and said, ‘Paul’ like he’s known me 20 years,” Martin said. “I’m still on an emotional high.”
The folks back in his hometown of Adel, off I-75 between Valdosta and Tifton, feel like they’ve ridden the emotional roller coaster with him. National news doesn’t mean much in this town of 5,300 people unless it has a local connection. So when Martin was shot in Texas, Adel flinched.
“I was beside myself,” said Linda Meadows, a retired teacher who had Martin in her classes when she started her career. “When people hear about it and put a face and a name to it, it’s more personal.”
People tend to stay put in Adel (pronounced AY-dell), which the city government Web site says was called Puddleville until the postmaster saw the word “Philadelphia” on a sack and decided to take the middle four letters for the town’s new name.
Lives in Adel connect through family, church and the athletic teams of the Cook High Hornets.
Martin, class of ’82, is known as the tall, gregarious guy from a big family. He’s married to Velda and the father of three well-mannered sons, including Kelvin, one of the best basketball players to come out of Adel.
Now that it’s clear that Martin, 45, will recover from his wounds, Adel is starting to relax a little bit. In fact, it’s a novelty to see one of their own play a part in this national drama.
“It’s a small world,” Vanessa Davis said Monday as she leaned against the white Formica counter of the Impire Restaurant, a soul food place where the entire menu is marked on a dry-erase board. “I couldn’t believe somebody from our town was in it.”
“He’s enjoying himself,” said his sister, Vanessa Martin Freeman, one of 10 siblings. “He likes to talk.”
National media organizations, such as ABC News, USA Today and National Public Radio interviewed Martin about what happened Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, the massive military base in Texas. Thirteen people were killed and 30 wounded in what is being called the worst shooting rampage at a U.S. military installation.
Two other casualties had Georgia ties. Army Staff Sgt. Justin M. DeCrow, 32, who grew up in Indiana but had a home in Evans, was killed. Private First Class James Armstrong, who worked in Milledgeville for the state Department of Transportation, was wounded.
Martin was waiting for his final checkup in a crowded medical processing center before shipping out to Iraq. He noticed the Army psychiatrist who was later charged in the shooting, but didn’t think much of it because the man was in uniform. Then Martin heard yelling and shots.
“It seemed like something you see at the movies, not in real life,” Martin said in a telephone interview.
But the bullet that hit his arm was real. Martin lay down and played dead so the gunman wouldn’t shoot again, but he decided to change strategy when he heard the sound of a pistol being reloaded.
He ran out and was shot in the back. He said he woke up in a hospital with bullet wounds in both arms, his left leg and his back. His wife and one of his children flew to his side.
Obama, Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates stopped to visit Martin and the other wounded. Martin said he expected to shake hands with Obama, but the president gave him a hug instead.
News of Martin’s shooting “went like wildfire” through Adel, said Charles Clayton, a former Cook High sports star and a community coach to Martin’s sons in high school. “Everybody was trying to find out how he was doing. ... How could it happen to him, a good guy like that?”
Clayton heard from Kelvin Martin, a student at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina and a member of the basketball team. Meadows, the former teacher, put up the information on Facebook. Soon, everybody in town knew.
The shock seemed greater because many townspeople had seen Martin just a few days earlier at the Nov. 1 funeral of his father, Samuel Martin, 76.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” said his old neighbor, Ida Mae Holloman. “He’d just been here to bury his daddy.”
Martin moved out of the hospital about a week ago. Now he’s driving and waiting to be cleared to return to duty.
“I’ve never been shot before in my life, never been cut, nothing,” Martin said. “And I want to say, it hurts.”
Martin said he joined the military right out of high school to so he could travel and “do something different.” He met Velda in Panama, where sons Paul Jr., 25, and Joseph, 22, were born. Kelvin, 20, was born in Germany.
After 14 years in “the regular Army,” he moved the family back to Adel and signed on with the Army Reserve. He worked in a warehouse for Target and behind the counter at an auto parts store and did a 2005 tour of duty in Kuwait.
Three years ago, he took an opportunity to sign up for a full-time job with the Army Reserve.
That meant moving, most recently to Craven Point Army Reserve Center in Jersey City, N.J. Velda stayed behind in Adel, so Kelvin could finish high school, then rejoined him about a year ago.
Martin said doctors expect him to fully recover, and he hopes to serve another five years in the Army before retiring.
“I’m not mad at the Army,” he said. “The Army didn’t shoot me.”
Next month, he’ll visit home, where the people would welcome him even if he hadn’t been shot at Fort Hood.
“He said, ‘Pray for me,’ ” said Meadows, recounting a telephone conversation she had with Martin while he was in the hospital. “I said, ‘Son, everybody in Cook County is praying for you.’ ”
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