D-Day veteran Jim “Pee Wee” Martin of Xenia was part of a unit that parachuted down over Utah Beach in the dark of night on June 6, 1944. It was the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany. 70 years later, at age 93, Martin returned to Normandy to jump from a plane to commemorate the anniversary. Air Force veteran Kevin Price of Bellbrook talks to Martin, one of his heroes, whose fascination with the Navy and submarine service first lead him to the recruiting office.
Jim “Pee Wee” Martin (JM): So, when I went down, I signed up with the Navy for submarine duty. Then, I said to the man, “How soon am I going to go?” He said. “They're working on the sub you’ll be on. It will be six months. You go home and we'll keep contact with you.” So, I went right across the hall and signed up for parachute duty.
KP: How much was it you weighed when you got in?
JM: I weighed one hundred and six pounds.
KP: What was the minimum weight that you could be to get in the military at that time?
JM: One hundred and three.
KP: You did bulk up some.
JM: I got up to one hundred and thirty-five pounds. That's another thing. Little people like me didn't suffer when we were behind the lines and couldn't get re-supplied with food. The bigger guys, one hundred and fifty, one hundred sixty was a bigger guy at that time, they lost a lot of weight and they suffered.
KP: Jim, what were you doing in Normandy five years ago?
JM: I made the parachute jump over there. I was the representative of my unit. People think that’s something; it really isn't something. It's like riding a bicycle. Once you've done it, there's nothing to it. And of course, people ask me, Well, weren’t you afraid? I said, “No. What’s to be afraid of? People seldom get killed, or hurt, parachuting. But look at motorcycles and automobiles, and things of that nature. And this one reporter said, “Well, doesn’t it bother you that you might get killed?” I said, “No. Terminal velocity. When you hit the ground at one hundred and twenty miles an hour, it's all over. You don't know it. You don't even feel like falling when you're going. Would you rather do that, or have cancer and linger around a couple of years?” That ended the conversation.
KP: I'm honored and privileged to have met you five years ago, and have shared these last few years with you, learning from you. I have immense respect and appreciation for your generation. I recognize that we're a free nation and a free world because of what you all did. Are you a hero? Everybody has to hear your response.
JM: No, no.
KP: Tell us what you think about when people call you a hero. Explain. Give us your perspective.
JM: A hero is someone... Now, let me tell you something about it. If you volunteer for something, and you're trained for it and you get paid for it, you’re not a hero.
D-Day veteran Jim “Pee Wee” Martin and Air Force veteran Kevin Price spoke at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. In September at the age of 98, Jim Martin parachuted again in the Netherlands as part of the Dutch Market Garden commemoration.
Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Tony Holloway and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.