On a winding road, past a stand of sycamores outside his Ohio home, CBS News found Jim Martin, 70 years after his first trip to France.
Jim was one of the first Americans in combat in Europe.
“They called us the tip of the spear,” he says.
Jim was a private in the 101st Airborne, one of the paratroopers dropped behind German lines in the hours before the D-Day landings.
“We wanted to get out of the plane quickly, because it was hitting the plane,” he says. “Planes were blowing up, and we wanted to get the hell out of there.”
They were inviting targets as they drifted toward the ground and the enemy.
Asked what was going through his mind as he slowly descended through the clouds into hostile territory, Jim says, “Fascination, because of all of this fire coming up towards us.”
“It was absolutely fascinating to see all these various colored tracers coming up there,” he says.
Their mission was to keep the Germans from reinforcing their troops on the dunes. Jim and his comrades landed right in the middle of those German reinforcements.
“That was a slaughter house,” he recalls. “There was SS all over the place, and they just slaughtered us. My colonel was lost. My company commander was lost.”
But what was supposed to be three days of fighting in Normandy went on for a month.
Jim Martin was one of the first Americans in combat in Europe. CBS NEWS
“That’s the way we were trained, we accepted that,” Jim says. “And no matter how many people are there against you, what the odds are doesn’t matter. We’re going to win.”
Jim went from Normandy to fight in Holland, where he was wounded; from Holland to the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium; and from Belgium to Berchtesgaden, Germany — Adolf Hitler’s retreat in the Bavarian Alps.
Jim says he thought he was going to die “every day.”
“You just have to accept it,” he says. “If you’re going to worry about dying all the time, you can’t fight.”
Jim is 93 now, one of the few left who can talk firsthand of a time when he says right was right and wrong was wrong, and everyone knew the difference.
And here’s the best part: This week, he’s going back to Normandy, where he intends to parachute — yes parachute — onto the same soil he touched seven decades ago.
“I’m not usually looking for records or anything, but that would give me a great deal of satisfaction,” he says.
Bon voyage, Jim.