XENIA — Jim Martin was 23 when he parachuted into Normandy as part of the historic Allied invasion of France on D-Day. Seventy years later at age 93, he completed that same jump in commemoration of that historic day.
“Wonderful,” he said, describing the jump. “No problems at all.”
Martin was a private in the US 101st Airborne Division, which was most recently popularized by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ “Band of Brothers” series.
The June 5 jump was part of a 11-day trip that Martin took to France to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. After his jump, Martin signed autographs and attended several memorial ceremonies. Part of the trip included meetings with several of the actors from the “Band of Brothers” series.
Why did he jump out of a plane, an idea most nonagenarians would stay miles away from? The answer quite simply is: Jim Martin isn’t most nonagenarians.
“Well, just to show people just cause you get old doesn’t mean you have to quit doing things,” Martin said. “And there’s some ego to it, to show that … you can still do it.”
He doesn’t plan for this jump to be has last either. He has two more planned before the year is out: one in Holland and another in commemoration of the Battle of the Bulge.
Today he’s back from his trip and he’s sitting on his porch reflecting on both that journey and the one he took 70 years ago. As he speaks, it’s clear that he remembers his past well. Martin has what his wife Donna describes as a photographic memory, and it’s hard to argue with that assertion. Every memory he recounts seems as clear as if he were describing something that happened to him five minutes ago.
On D-Day, Martin recalls watching the rest of the paratroopers in his plane jump, but having to delay his own jump due to high winds. After his plane flew around for about an hour waiting for the wind to die down, the jump master gave Martin the option to cancel the jump if he wanted.
“No, not at this point,” Martin recalled saying. “We’re going.” And that’s just what he did. He jumped into history.
After completing his jump and helping his unit achieve their objectives in France, Martin participated in the invasion of Holland (“Operation Market Garden”), fought as one of the defenders at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and helped to secure Berchtesgaden, Germany, the location of Adolf Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” hideaway. He lived history.
Martin’s current mission is to make sure the world knows about the stories of his generation. He regularly sends out packets of information to those who write to him and generally serves as a representative of his unit. He’s adamant that his story is symbolic.
“I’ve been all over the world with this thing,” Martin said. “When I go over there … I go as a representative of my unit. And that’s the way I want it to be. It’s not me. I’m just a symbol of what everybody did. I did nothing special.”
He is also clear that he and the others in his unit are not heroes.
“We are not heroes, and all the people in my unit have agreed to that. That term is widely overused. We signed up voluntarily. We trained to do this. We knew what the odds were and we got paid for it. That does not make you a hero.”
“A hero is somebody who does something completely out of character with no training, no acknowledgment of getting anything from it, just doing something like pulling somebody out of a burning car on the highway. That’s a hero.”