"Where Dreams Take Flight" -August Martin High School motto
In 2005, I interviewed one of the last people to fly with Amelia Earhart, who has since passed away. Marguerite McDonough Jersey was a rare, hidden treasure, tucked neatly away in Indian Lake, NY, in the Adirondack Mountains. And while her story was never reported in the mainstream media, I knew it was an important one to document for future historical data…and it was all thanks to my mother and sister for introducing me to her.
That experience brings me to two weeks ago, where I celebrated my birthday in Blue Mountain Lake, only to learn of another jewel residing in the mountains, and holding a piece of history that only he could share.
I met John "Jack" Groll after mass at St. Paul’s, and his face was filled with enthusiasm as he approached me, asking, "Do you know of August Martin?" I responded, "Yes, it’s a high school in Queens, NY." He never knew of the high school, like I never knew of the man, August, or Augie as he referred to him. As I looked at Jack, it was as though his past was being revisited through his expressions on his face. He was trying to tell me a story that had clearly changed his life. At that point I asked if I could write about this famous pilot, Augie, who helped Jack to land a job. And he was overly enthused about it. Needless to say, little is known about this famous black pilot, who was the first African American to fly as a captain in the airlines. But Jack felt compelled to tell me the story…his story.
Ten days later, my mother faxed me the following letter from Jack, to me…
January 27, 2010
In 1958 I met a fellow pilot named August Martin. At the time we flew for Seaboard and western Airlines. Augie flew Lockheed 1149 Constellations and I was Flying Douglas DC-4 aircraft. Our home base was John F. Kennedy Airport on Long Island, New York. The DC-4 route was to Frankfurt, Germany with many stops in route while the Constellations with there longer range flew direct routes to Europe.
Augie who was a rated Captain on both types of aircraft and at time he flew the DC-4′s in order to keep his qualifications in that aircraft current. This is how I met him on one of these two day trips to Frankfurt. Our flight crews were comprised of three pilots and a navigator. With the three pilots the Airline was allowed to schedule additional on duty hours enough to complete the route without a crew change.
Augie and I hit it off from the start and became friends. He was a joy to be with during the long flights helping to make the hours slide by. One trip Augie was checking out a new Captain and we were lost on an approach to Basil, Switzerland. We retraced our steps and found a much stronger wind than forecast, causing us to doubt our progress. In those days we did not have the modern navigation facilities that exist today. We landed safely in a rain storm. You had to wear rain coats in those old airplanes that were not pressurized because their construction allowed them to leak. Augie, as usual, was calm, cool and collected during the approach.
One day in 1958 on a trip to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey I visited Pilot Employment Agency. They were looking for a pilot with my qualifications but we did not have a common source of reference. I mentioned Augie’s name and my problems were solved. Augie was contacted an dgave me the best of references allowing me to accept a position that lasted thirty one and a half years.
I don’t remember where or who gave me the news of Augie’s death. I think that I heard the news from Pilots Employment Agency but I am not sure. He was in Africa flying medical supplies to the people of Biafra, landing at night in a Lockheed Constellation on a road lined with flare pots. I heard that his wife was his co-pilot. There were no survivors.
John M. Groll
"On November 3rd, 1955 Seaboard & Western became the first airline in the nation to hire an African-American pilot, August Martin." (comes via Seaboard History)
John, dreams will continue to take flight, and I thank you for sharing your story with me.