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D-Day paratrooper remembers historic jump ahead of 70th anniversary

Army News Service

Published: 07:28PM June 5th, 2014

Veteran paratrooper Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, is returning to coastal France to mark the 70th anniversary of the invasion that changed the course of World War II.

Martin remembers looking out in the night sky before making the historic jump.

“When we made our initial jump into France, there were a few cirrus clouds up above, just enough so you still saw shadows down below,” he said at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

“It was just unbelievable to see as many ships as there were down there,” he said.

Martin said he hopes to make another jump during the anniversary.

“I truly would want to do that one, because there’s no other 93-year-old guy in the unit who can do it but me,” he said. Martin was a private first class with the elite 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

Martin said he and his unit were known as the “Toccoa Men,” because they attended basic training at Camp Toccoa, Ga. They were trained alongside Easy Company of the 506th, later depicted in the “Band of Brothers” series. Martin said he was aware then that they were part of something big.

“We knew that the success was going to hinge on us. We were absolutely certain of that. Eisenhower was too, that’s why he made the decision to send us in, even though all the others didn’t want to,” Martin said.

Martin said he “never had a doubt about the success of the mission,” but had concern about what the human cost would be.

“I knew it was going to be bad,” he said.

He and his unit were among the first wave of paratroopers to jump into Normandy. They later jumped into Holland in “Operation Market Garden,” defended Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Adolph Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden at the end of the war.

“Going into Normandy, it wasn’t so much scary,” he said. “Now going into Holland, we were different, we had already been there, and we showed more fear. But don’t let anybody tell you that he wasn’t scared going in to any combat, whether it was us or others.”

Men died all around him; the unit endured a lot during the war, Martin said.

“It was a slaughterhouse on that drop zone,” he said, because German paratrooper and SS troops were right where they landed at Normandy.

The unit’s objective was one of the most important ones of the whole operation, Martin said, to capture a pedestrian bridge and a vehicle bridge, both of which were put in a few months prior to let reinforcements down to the beach when forces landed on shore.

“It was paramount we get the bridges, which we did,” he said.

“Division thought we had been wiped out, so they ordered the bridges bombed, and here we are right there at the bridges,” he said.

The danger was present every day as Soldiers were killed around him; he thought each day might be his last. Once you accept you might die, “you’re better off,” and can focus on the mission at hand, Martin said.

“You got to understand that you can’t let the fear control you; you have to do your job regardless of the fear, and we all did it. That’s what we had to do and we did,” he said.

Martin would “absolutely” do it all over again.

He enlisted in 1942, at the age of 21. He knew the situation was deteriorating in Europe, and that France and Britain were no match for Germany. Besides, men were being drafted and had to leave their wives and children at home.

“Here I am a young person with no family to worry about and these guys are going away and leaving their families. That did change me,” he said.

Serving one’s country, he said, is part of the duty of living in a free nation.

“I don’t consider it a sacrifice. A lot of people said it was a sacrifice. It’s not a sacrifice. It’s a duty that you’re obligated to do,” he said. “If you live in a free country, whether you agree with what they do, if you’re called, you should go and do your very best.”

Martin is proud of the men and women who serve the nation today.

What advice does he have for the fighting generation: “Go in there and do the best you can. Be thankful that you have a country that will back you with materiel.”