CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Seventy years ago, Jim “Pee Wee” Martin parachuted into France, behind German enemy lines, ahead of the D-Day invasion.
This week, at the age of 93, the Ohio World War Two veteran is jumping into Normandy again to mark the anniversary of the June 6, 1944, sea-borne landings by Allied troops, although this time he will not be making the leap alone.
“They are making me do a tandem,” Martin said in a telephone interview. “They are worried about me getting hurt. I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. If I get hurt or I get killed, what is the difference? I’ve lived 93 years. I’ve had a good life.’”
Martin said he was jumping now because he may be the last man from his unit of the 101st Airborne Division to ever do it again.
Martin, who lives near Dayton, said he will use a round canopy parachute like those in World War Two, which drop more quickly than modern parachutes. He is also taking one of his jump jackets from the war to France to display.
After the war, he worked in a tool shop until age 65.
A U.S. Veterans Affairs doctor cleared him to make the jump physically and pronounced him mentally fit, he said.
“You might ask some of my friends around here if they believe in that,” Martin said. “Some of them think that I’m crazy.”
Martin recalled that on the first night as Allied troops parachuted in for the D-Day invasion, local people thanked them for coming even as their houses were burning, and he has since received a warm reception in France.
“Some people will come up to you and cry and say, ‘I was a little girl back then and I remember what happened, and you gave us our freedom,’” Martin said.
Martin, who was a private in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was among the first Americans in combat in Europe. After Normandy, where his unit fought to capture key bridges, he parachuted into Holland in “Operation Market Garden” and fought at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
As a defense industry worker, he had a deferment from military service, but Martin said he saw that France and Britain could not win the war in Europe on their own and that men with families were joining the service and being drafted. He enlisted at age 21 and was later awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
“The one thing I want to emphasize is that we were not heroes. A hero is someone not expected to do something,” he said.
“When you volunteer, and you get trained for it and get paid for it, you may be brave as hell but you are not a hero.”
Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Will Dunham