Former Pfc. Jim “Pee Wee” Martin is one of the last of the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, and jumped into World War II with the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On June 6, 1944, he jumped into the Allied invasion of Normandy, France. In September 1944, he jumped into Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. In December 1944, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Belgium. Martin, now 101 years old, only recently stopped jumping out of airplanes, but he found a new gig with country music singer and passionate military supporter Karen Waldrup, who met Martin in 2021 when she performed at his 100th birthday celebration in Xenia, Ohio. Inspired by Martin’s story, Waldrup wrote Normandy, a song based on his experiences as a paratrooper during World War II. The song was released on June 6 to mark the 78th anniversary of D-Day.
1. What do you remember about jumping into combat?
The plane was silent. It was like jumping into open fire. We didn’t know where we were at. We had a mission to accomplish but didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t have time to be scared. Shells coming at us looked like they were going to hit us; all the fire was fascinating. We had nothing to go by.
2. How did you keep each other’s spirits up in combat?
We didn’t need that. We didn’t talk about it. We were there to get a job done. You don’t belong if you need someone for that. We got rid of them.
3. Do you miss your fellow soldiers?
You develop a bond like no other, even stronger than marriage at times. I’m just lucky enough to have lived this long. You go through things no marriage could ever dream of. I enjoyed the reunions, just happy to see each other and friendships that were developed.
4. Do you miss Army food?
No. Army food is mostly pretty terrible. In Bastogne, I ate lemon powder with snow on Christmas Day. We used pine needles and snow to use the bathroom.
5. What is your impression of today’s soldiers?
[It’s] a totally different kind of war. We don’t fight to win today. We negotiate with people. That’s another thing—a nuclear war will be over in three days or so. Weapons are different, too. We fought with rifles. Today there are weapons we didn’t even dream of. I can’t imagine how it is today. We had to go room to room with rifles. Today they send in drones, so there are not as many casualties. Technology makes it different.
6. Do you think you have one more jump in you?
No, my last jump was in Palatka, Florida, with [Skydive Palatka owner] Art Shaffer in 2020. I was 99. My granddaughters jump in my honor now.
7. How did you like writing the song with Waldrup?
I didn’t write the song, she did. I was just telling my story. I am not a musician. I have never listened much to music, but I am glad she likes it. I haven’t ever written a song before, but I do think this song will make her a lot of money.