93-year-old D-Day vet jumps again in Normandy
June 9, 2014
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UTAH BEACH, France (Army News Service, June 9, 2014) -- The motto of the 101st Airborne Division is "Rendezvous with Destiny."
In a true rendezvous with history, paratrooper veteran James "Pee Wee" Martin again took to the sky Thursday, over Normandy, France, and parachuted onto the one-time battlefield, seven decades after his historic D-Day landing.
A veteran of the elite 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, wearing his vintage tan paratroop jacket with jump wings and patches, Martin caught his breath and seemed surprised the flight was already over after sliding to a smooth landing.
"It was absolutely wonderful," Martin told the swarm of reporters. "The best part was when we went out of the door -- that was the most exciting part. It's always exciting until the chute opens."
But open it did, and Martin floated through the sky over Normandy, attached to his tandem partner, who landed him safely in the same area where he landed in June 6, 1944 -- in a field behind Utah Beach.
This time, however, there was no fear for the seasoned paratrooper. While many were concerned about his safety, Martin said he wasn't worried this time around.
"I wasn't scared at all," he said. "There is really nothing to be scared of. Once you get in that plane, you forget about everything. It certainly wasn't scary today, because there wasn't anybody shooting at me."
But even a war hero has somebody to answer to. Only minutes after landing, one of Martin's friends handed him a cell phone for a surprise phone call from his wife, asking if he was safe.
"I really wanted to do this, for one, to show people that just because you're getting old it doesn't mean you have to stop doing things," he said. "On the other hand, there is a little ego in it, too, because I'm 93, but I can still do this."
More overwhelming than maybe the jump was the attention by media and spectators waiting for his historic jump.
"All the attention (on me) is unbelievable," he said. "I expected maybe 50 people here. But it's always a good thing to know that people like you and what you do. Now, of course, when I landed here before, they were all trying to kill me. Now people all want to take a picture and give me kisses on the cheek. It's quite a change."
While the jump made for an iconic déjà vu, Martin said the jump was not so much about looking back, as about the freedom that was won during the brutal battles around Normandy's landing beaches.
"I really don't look back on the memories too much," he said. "I like to look at what we're doing in the here and now, that's what I'm interested in -- and I like being with the people. But I enjoy the interest in history and all the young people who are interested in history. That's what we're all about, is the history."
Also on his mind were the future generations of war fighters following in his jump boots.
"At the time of D-Day, we were almost in a position of losing the war," he said. "That's why I joined. And today, I applaud anyone who is willing to serve in the military ... (hang) in there, keep motivated and keep your passion up. You may think it's terrible today; some of us did at the time. But now, looking back 70 years, it was the best time of our whole lives.
"There is a great deal of satisfaction from doing what we did (back then), and I'm sure all the young guys out there today will feel the same way when you get there," Martin said in advice for young Soldiers. "You guys can do it, if I could."
(For more ARNEWS stories, visit www.army.mil/ARNEWS, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArmyNewsService)