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A limited-edition 1987 University of Miami national championship clock hangs on one wall. Hiding behind a foul ball hit by Rickey Henderson is a rare photograph of Ty Cobb. A depiction of Napoleon on horseback shares a military- heroes gallery with German field marshal Erich Von Danstein. In the kitchen is what remains of fifteen cases of raspberry soda he brought back from a recent trip to New England.
His two-bedroom apartment near Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale is layered with orderly stacks of files, which seem to fall into three main groupings: Vietnam, World War II, and Jane Akre and Steve Wilson.
Documents from Martin-Trigona's personal military file, meticulously kept all these years, show that after high school he completed Marine training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and served seventeen months in Vietnam, nearly half of that time in the DMZ. He won eight medals for valor and bravery, including the Cross of Gallantry and the Vietnam Gold Pin. "I was considered invincible in Vietnam," he says matter-of-factly. "No one could understand it. I stood up against the superior officers over there as much as I stood up against the enemy."
A news magazine clipping from his mother, received by Martin-Trigona in the jungle, lured him to Florida. It was an article about colleges where average students could do well. The University of Tampa was on the list, and following an honorable discharge, he enrolled. After a few semesters, he transferred to the less patrician University of South Florida, where he earned a degree in history. But not before instigating the largest scandal in USF history. It began when the dean of arts and sciences punched him during an argument over a grade. It ended with the forced resignation of the dean and USF President Cecil Mackey.
"I discovered so much fraud in the way that university did business. I was a regular at the Board of Regents meetings, handing out stacks of paper proving all of this," Martin-Trigona says, unable to fully explain what drove him to escalate a dispute over a grade into a statewide scandal. (In 1977 he accepted a $9000 settlement to end the battle.) "Mackey used to cringe every time he saw me in the same room," he recalls with a smile. "I used to wait for him out in the parking lot. That's where I discovered the great value of a parking lot. It is a neutral zone between a person's work and a person's home. It's a great place to run into people you would never be allowed to see otherwise."
Martin-Trigona says he now makes a living in the import/export business -- jade from South America, textiles from Guatemala, and bartered shrimp from the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua. Atop a filing cabinet in his apartment are several beautiful objects -- jade figurines and colorful wall hangings -- he plans to give to Akre some day.
One bedroom is converted into an office and is filled with priceless World War II research material, much of it concerning one particular conflict. Considered by many to be the greatest tank battle of all time, the Battle of Kursk, says Martin-Trigona, was the straw that broke the Fuhrer's back. Since graduation from USF, he says, he has been writing a book titled The Battle That Doomed Germany in World War II.
The chapters are in manila folders, put aside for the time being, he says, while he concentrates his energies on Jane Akre. Author William Manchester (Death of a President, The Glory and the Dream, American Caesar) once lived next door to Martin-Trigona's family in Connecticut. Manchester, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors John Toland and William Craig, he says, have urged him to finish the book: "Those three men are the finest World War II writers and researchers alive today. They know what I've got here. They told me that my book would put me right up in their company.
"That's why I can't understand Akre avoiding me. I've told her that she's not going to be able to last that long in the television business and she's going to need something else. I've offered her co-authorship on my book," he says sadly, "but she's never replied."
A few days after his sleuthing stint at the restaurant, Martin-Trigona was observed by a Broward Sheriff's Office deputy, suspiciously rummaging through an unmanned Wackenhut guard shack near where Wilson lives in Weston. "Our assumption was that he was going through the card files, getting addresses and phone numbers," recalls BSO Sgt. John Fleming. "We thought we might be dealing with a burglar here. If I remember right, he may have told us he was a schoolteacher." But Martin-Trigona was sent on his way without so much as a police report being filed -- just a warning not to trespass in these parts any more.
With a degree in history and the fledgling beginnings of his book project, Martin-Trigona "followed the ghosts of Hemingway and Tennessee Williams to Key West." He laughs. "I figured the atmosphere there would be conducive to writing a book." But he had to earn a living, so not long after arriving, he paid $50,000 for a boat and began commercial shrimping. Within a year he got his money back, he says, by chartering his vessel as part of the 1980 Mariel boatlift. He took 38 people on a rescue mission to Mariel, was detained three weeks by Cuban authorities, and brought back 240 refugees to Key West. "I was fined $185,000 by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for bringing illegal aliens into the country," he says proudly. "I walked into court with a tape recording of President Jimmy Carter praising and giving his support to the `outlaw freedom flotilla.' The judge threw out the charges and the fines, and five of us captains walked."