I’ve lived quite the life, haven’t I?” says Henry Martin.
Meet St. Petersburg resident Henry “Hank” Martin, a well-dressed man with a twinkling eye, a well-kept white beard and a full head of hair to match.
In his 99 years, Martin seems to have done it all. In World War II, he served in the Coast Guard. In his career, he worked his way up from an apprentice to a chief engineer. He survived a battle with prostate cancer and, at 68 years old, he cycled 1500 miles and then wrote a book about it.
His advice to those younger than him? “Don’t live so long,” he joked.
Martin was born on December 13, 1918 in Battle Creek, Michigan. His interest in mechanics lead him to an apprenticeship straight out of high school. He was trained as a machinist, but dreamed of working in the drafting office creating new products. Martin couldn’t find any work in drafting in Michigan, so he packed his car up and drove to San Diego with his wife Charleen, taking Route 66 to get there. World War II was just beginning, and Martin was drafted in the fall of 1943.
“I got a letter from the President of the United States inviting me to serve,” Martin recalled. “You had a choice of services, so I picked the Coast Guard.”
During his time in the Coast Guard, Martin worked as a fireman aboard the ship. He traveled to Okinawa and Yokohama, Japan, and also to the Philippines transporting troops during and after the war. In 1945, he helped in what was called The Magic Carpet Ride, a Coast Guard mission to get as many troops home to the United States as possible. Once arriving back to San Diego, he hopped aboard a train for four days. His wife had moved back to Michigan with their first born son, Thom.
“I’ve never been sick of traveling,” he said.
The Martin’s second child, Steve, was born as Thom was starting school, and Martin settled down into family life. He took a job with the Oliver Corporation designing tools and worked his way up to Chief Engineer with only a high school education and his apprenticeship training. He says his work was one of the most rewarding aspects of his life.
Flash forward to retirement, and Martin hopped on his bike. Martin lived in Homestead, Florida when he decided to make the trip back to Battle Creek for his 50th high school reunion in 1986. He kept a journal and recorded things on tape during his 19-day journey, stopping his baby blue ten-speed bike only to camp in his small maroon tent. When he got home, he decided he’d take his journals and write a book.
“Follow the White Line” was written and published by Henry Martin in 1990, an ode for the bicycling community.
He received 1000 copies. Unfortunately, 600 were ruined due to hurricane flooding, but 400 were sold to a company that distributed the books to libraries in the Illinois.
“It was quite rewarding,” he said.
In addition to his cycling trip to Michigan, the book also outlined his biking adventure in England. Martin flew to England and biked the country, visiting with his cousin Elsie, staying at 500-year-old inn and other adventures. Martin returned to Derby, England just two years ago at the age of 97, and also traveled to meet a cousin for the first time in New Zealand.
The last page from his book sums up Martin pretty well.
The scene details a conversation between Martin and his wife. He has just returned from his biking trip in England, and Charleen asks if he will be planning any more journeys. Martin’s reply to her:
“..a noncommittal ‘What? At my age?’”