World War II and U.S. Army veteran James “Pee Wee” Martin was laid to rest this week with military honors at his graveside service and celebration of life in Xenia, Ohio.
Martin, one of the last living “Toccoa Originals” of 1942 made famous by the HBO mini-series “Band Of Brothers, passed away on Sept. 11 at the age of 101.
Martin joined the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Camp Toccoa in July 1942. He was soon given the nickname “Pee Wee” due to being the lightest man in the regiment and accepted the moniker as a badge of respect. After completing their initial training at Camp Toccoa, the 506th moved to Fort Benning for jump training and then on to Camp Mackall for further training.
Martin parachuted into Normandy at 12:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, and fought in the Normandy campaign for 33 days until the 101st Airborne was relieved and returned to England in July.
On Sept. 17, 1944, the 101st Airborne Division jumped into Holland in the leading wave of “Operation Market Garden.” Martin landed near the town of Son. G Company fought to secure “Hell’s Highway” during the operation and was then sent to Mourmelon, France in November after more than 60 days of fighting in Holland. After participating in operations in Germany early in 1945 the 101st Airborne Division ended by occupying Adolph Hitler’s mountain home in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria in April 1945.
Over 500 active-duty soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) attended Martin’s funeral on Sept. 21, supporting his family and friends.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of Jim “Pee Wee” Martin’s passing,” the 101st Airborne Division said in an official statement. “He is a true legend in the 101st and will live on forever. The division was founded on the sacrifice, valor, audacity, and grit of soldiers like Martin.”
Country singer/songwriter Karen Waldrup also honored the life of the man she is proud to call her friend during the service Wee Martin” with a performance of their song "Normandy."
Waldrup had the opportunity to meet Martin at his 100th Birthday Jumpfest and immediately connected with him. After the fest, she had the privilege to spend a day with him listening to him telling stories about his life and sacrifice. That day, Waldrup co-penned the song “Normandy," with Martin and Hunter Jergens.
"Jim Martin changed my perspective on life on March 18, 2021 when I got to sit with him at his home in Ohio and listen to war stories about WW2 and his life," explains Waldrup. "My time with him was short, but I cherished each moment of knowing him. He showed me to view life from a wider lens."
Waldrup continued, "He is a true American hero, even though he says he isn’t and was a sweet friend to me. I admire Jim’s patriotism, faithfulness and dedication to family, community and our country. It was an honor of a lifetime to perform at his services. This is a memory that will stay with me forever."
“Normandy” was released in June to honor of the 78th anniversary of D-Day. It was also re-mastered and included as a bonus track on Waldrup's new album Kendall County Road.
Martin's memorial services included both a graveside service and Celebration of Life that featured a traditional 21 Gun Salute, paratroopers and a 30-mile procession from Sugarcreek Township to his final resting place at Dayton National Cemetery where crowds lined the streets to honor him.
Martin’s family is raising funds to build a statue in his honor in his hometown. More information is here. There will also be a press button at the statue where "Normandy" will play.
Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com.