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Lending history a hand

Delmar man loans Spanish-American War ammo belt to State Museum

Family heirlooms are generally steeped in history. But for Delmar resident Marty Pickards, his keepsake is helping the New York State Museum fill a place in its new exhibition.

Citizen Soldier: New York's National Guard in the American Century covers the role of the state's troops in the 1900s, and Pickands' grandfather's ammunition belt worn during the Spanish-American War is in the thick of it. It's a period of time the museum was having trouble locating artifacts for, so Pickands, who works for the museum as an archaeologist on the Cultural Resource Survey staff, said he was happy to loan the item.

The belt contains .45-70 cartridges, and was worn by Pickands' grandfather, Sgt. James S. Martin of Brooklyn, who saw action in the Spanish-American War as part of the 71st regiment.

"They were right up there with the Rough Riders," said Pickands.

Indeed, Martin met Theodore Roosevelt not once, but twice. The first time was during a routine guard duty in Cuba, and the second instance was in Long Island, when the future president recalled the soldier by name and rank during a troop review.

Between those two moments, though, Sgt. Martin went through an extraordinary chain of events. After surviving the Battle of San Juan Hill, Martin was struck with yellow fever and left for dead. A passing soldier, one Lt. Peter Short, noticed his body moving amongst the dead and rescued him from certain demise.

"The two of them remained friends for the rest of their lives," Pickands said.

Martin went on to make a full recovery and attend Yale Medical School, eventually becoming a doctor.

Unfortunately, Pickands heard these tales from his mother"his grandfather died when he was just four.

"I wished I could have talked to him directly," he said.

The "Citizen Soldier: New York's National Guard in the American Century" exhibit also includes personal items of the late Sgt. David Fisher, formerly of Watervliet, who was killed in Iraq in December 2004. The exhibit runs through the end of March.

The museum is located on Madison Avenue in Albany, and is daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.nysm.nysed.gov.""

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