Martin gets medal -- and hug -- from commander-in-chief

Scripps Howard Foundation WireOctober 20, 2011 

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WASHINGTON -- She was dressed in her red suit. She had a full night's sleep and a hearty breakfast. She had a calm disposition masking a case of nerves.

The only thing Bluffton resident Ida Martin didn't have yet Thursday was her hug and the famous medal to go with it.

Eventually, the moment came. Her name was called. She walked slowly to the podium.

President Barack Obama put his arm around her, just as she hoped he would.

A military aide read a statement outlining her accomplishments:

"When Ida Martin realized the needs of working families and senior citizens in her community were not being met, she took matters into her own hands."

And then she got the medal.

The founder of the nonprofit Bluffton Self Help was one of 13 recipients chosen from 6,000 nominees from around the country who have demonstrated exemplary service to their country or fellow citizens.

Obama said the recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal -- the nation's second-highest civilian honor -- exemplified the story of the good Samaritan. He cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech, in which King said the good Samaritan would stop to help a man lying injured on the road, asking himself, "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

"The 13 Americans that we honor today have all faced in their own ways the moment that Dr. King described -- that good Samaritan moment when you see a neighbor in need and you have to ask yourself the question," Obama said. "They could have made excuses for doing nothing. Instead, they chose to help."

Martin's organization aids people who need clothes, food or other assistance. She still helps out at Bluffton Self Help and sits on its board.

She said she naturally feels compelled to help those in need in her community. She was also excited about her trip to Washington, noting she planned to hug Obama, even if it broke presidential protocol.

Earlier that morning before the ceremony someone commented on her calm demeanor.

"I'm as nervous as I can be," she replied.

But she didn't show any sign of it as she approached Obama on a stage in the East Room to accept the medal. And no protocol was breached -- Obama placed his arm around her shoulder.

"I'm thrilled about this day," Martin said when it was all over.

She said she has loved Obama since the first day he announced his campaign for presidency.

"I told my husband, 'He is going to make it,' " she said. "He said, 'Not in your time, maybe in your children's time, but you will never have a black president.' I said, 'Oh yeah, it's time. I can just see him walking down. He's the one.' "

On Thursday evening Martin visited the new King memorial on the National Mall and was scheduled to return home today.

She plans to put her medal on prominent display in her house. She has already been asked to show off her prize at Hardeeville Elementary School, where her 8-year-old great-grandson, Belize, is a student.

"I want the world to know," Martin said.

SHFWire reporter Ariana Stone can be reached at stonea@shns.com or 202-326-9865.

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