Now 70 years later …

CNN ran the amazing story of how a veteran of the D-Day landing, 93-year-old Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, commemorated the anniversary by jumping again!

Martin was part of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division that parachuted down over Utah Beach in their bid to retake France and, eventually, the rest of Europe from Nazi Germany. They actually touched down in enemy-controlled territory a night before what’s referred to as D-Day …

His jump Thursday in the same area was different and — despite his being 93 years old now — a whole lot easier.
“It didn’t (compare),” Martin said, “because there wasn’t anybody shooting at me today.”

Every year, every day it seems, the number of surviving World War II veterans like Martin dwindles. He estimates there are only a few dozen members of his unit who took part in the now historic D-Day invasion who are still around.

It’s ironic, in a sense, because Martin was among the oldest of his bunch in June 1944 — at 23 years old — surrounded by others who were mere teenagers.

Together, they parachuted onto France’s northern coast in the dark of night not knowing what awaited them. Whatever it was, it would not be friendly or easy, they expected.

“Everybody (was) scared all the time, and if they tell you anything differently they are full of crap,” the former paratrooper recalled. “But you just do what you had to do regardless of it. That’s the difference.” …

All these years later, he has become a celebrity of sorts — as evidenced by a mob of reporters who greeted him after his parachute landing Thursday. Martin says he feels “kind of humbled and embarrassed at the adulation because I don’t feel we did anything that we weren’t supposed to do or anything exceptional.”

He adds: “We just did what we trained to do.”

Five years ago I posted this …

I watched streaming live video of the D day commemorative services today in Normandy, I thought back to the 50th anniversary of D day. I was chaplain on the CRYSTAL HARMONY which made a special D day commemorative crossing of the Atlantic. Howard K. Smith was on board to provide lectures and background and cruising with us were about 50 men who had actually landed at Normandy on D day.  On the anniversary day the Catholic priest and I held a commemorative memorial service.  And then just off the towering cliffs of Normandy, on a beautiful sunny day with the Royal Yacht BRITANIA off on our port side,  and with 50 veterans of D day sitting in front we held a brief service and threw a wreath into the water in honor of all those who had sacrificed.  It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life and one I will never forget.  Somewhere I have some neat, panoramic pictures of the event . . . if I ever get to finding and unpacking the picture box, I’ll post them.

That war seems in retrospect to have been so definite, so necessary, so defining built on the truth of an untenable horror which demanded to be addressed.   How unlike so many wars since.

THE WASHINGTON POST ran this editorial, “On the Normandy beaches, a foundation was laid — at a terrible price”:

EARLY ON IN the Normandy invasion, time was denominated day by agonizing day as the Americans and British and their allies pushed into France, fighting every step of the way: D-Day plus one, D-Day plus two . . . . advancing inch by inch, it seemed. Now it’s counted in years — 65 of them as of today, a full working lifetime for anyone born around June 6, 1944.

For the great majority of these Americans, as they near Social Security age, life has been pretty good in a lot of ways. Their parents, who served and survived, came home to the GI Bill and (with the inevitable downturns now and then) a surging economy. America started making cars again, and refrigerators, and then here came television. Incomes rose, homes were built by the millions and, for those who weren’t faring so well, government was playing an ever-larger role as backstop, though never on the scale of war-devastated countries overseas.

In time the federal government became, too, an enforcer of equality, bringing a greater measure of justice and equality to longtime victims of racial discrimination, as well as more benefits of the postwar boom and the modern American economy.

The country incurred an enormous financial debt in World War II, the sort of thing that would supposedly be visited on generations to come. But in this case, Americans got out from under it rather quickly while wisely taking on more debt with the Marshall Plan to aid Europe.

One great debt remains, however, and it is harder — perhaps impossible — to repay. It is owed to the hundreds of thousands of Americans (and their allies) for whom D-Day, or some day like it in Europe or North Africa or the Pacific, was the last day of their lives — lives that usually ended with so few years on them: 17, 19, 22, 30. Every year when The Post fails to mark D-Day on this page, we hear complaints from a few of our readers. Too few, really — people who still know how terrible was the loss for many Americans and how much it meant for all of us who live. The debt is still owed, payable only in the dwindling currency of remembrance.

So let us never forget those who served then, and those who serve now, those who are willing to do whatever they are asked and told to do.

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