'A Rendezvous with Destiny' film salutes 3 World War II paratroopers from Ohio
Jim "Pee Wee" Martin from Xenia recalls his D-Day mission and Battle of the Bulge experience in film making its Ohio broadcast premiere.
What a birthday present for Jim "Pee Wee" Martin, a "Screaming Eagles" paratrooper from World War II's D-Day landing in 1944.
Martin, who turns 101 on Friday, April 29, will be featured in a one-hour film, A Rendezvous with Destiny, about three World War II paratroopers from Ohio to be broadcast 9 p.m. Friday on Dayton's WPTD-TV (Channel 16).
The Xenia resident, when interviewed in late 2020, said all the soldiers were "just scared a lot all the time" on D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of Normandy, France, by 160,000 troops on June 6, 1944.
"But you can't let that terror rule you. You suppress that. It's in the back of your mind. Even though we didn't know what the casualties were going to be, each of us had a feeling we never expressed to anybody that we're going to be the exception, we weren't going to be killed," Martin said.
Martin enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1942. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, shortly after it was formed that Aug. 16, and was one of the first enlisted men to complete Jump School at Fort Benning, Ga.
Martin made his first combat jump on June 6, 1944, during the D-Day invasion. His second combat jump was in the Netherlands on September 17, 1944, for Operation Market Garden. He also participated in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in Dec. 16, 1944.
A Rendezvous with Destiny tells the story of those battles through the recollections of Martin, Sandusky native Dick Klein and Conneaut native Dan McBride. They first told their stories to Dutch author LTC Jos Groen for his book, Three of the Last WWII Screaming Eagles. Groen asked filmmaker Tracie Hunter and her WWII Beyond The Call nonprofit organization to make the film. McBride and Klein have died since their interviews two years ago with Hunter, the film's director and executive producer.
"The eagle always screams when it attacks. We were the Screaming Eagles," explains McBride, who died in February at 97.
Martin told about the confusion after the predawn landing in France. One soldier climbed up a pole to see where they were before they started walking down a cattle lane.
"There were banks on each side, German artillery and U.S. artillery both were shooting at us, and the place was littered with bodies. Oh hell, it was awful," Martin said.
In September, as Allied forces pushed west, the Screaming Eagles jumped into battle again, this time in daylight. Then they thought they were heading home to the U.S.
"We turned in all of our machine guns and mortars and things like that. Most of our rifles were turned in to be redone," Martin said. "We turned in all of our extra clothing. We were going to the States to take a photo, and then go to Guam to get ready to go to Japan."
But when the Germans launched their last major offensive with 200,000 men and 1,000 tanks on Dec. 16, 1944, in the Battle of the Bulge (also known as the Battle of the Ardennes), the Screaming Eagles were transported by truck to Bastogne, Belgium.
The 101st Airborne was told Dec. 18 that "there's been a breakthrough (by the Germans) and you guys are going. And I said, 'Oh hell. We're not going any place. We don't have any weapons, we don't have any ammunition, and no K rations.' And he said, 'You're going!'
"The Germans broke through and we had to hold them. There were seven roads and three railroads in that town … But if we can hold that town, we can stop them. And that's why that was so damned important."
Klein, who died at 98 last year, recalled how the acting 101st Airborne Division commander refused to surrender with a one-word response: "Nuts!" Within days, Gen. George Patton's Third Army arrived to secure Bastogne, and the front was restored by late January. The Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945.
When Germany surrendered, "somebody came out in the street and said 'It's all over!' And that's how we knew it. There was no official proclamation or anything," Martin said.
"There were no heroes, I don't give a damn what you say. There were no heroes," said McBride, who had retired to Silver City, New Mexico. "When we got out of Bastogne, nobody had had their clothes off in a month. You could smell us two blocks away. There was nothing glamorous about it, whatsoever. You were scared all the time and hungry ... and somebody was trying to kill you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you know? You could die at any time.
"I told my kids most of my stories," McBride told filmmaker Martin. "I think everybody should get an idea what a war is all about so they avoid it. I hope nobody ever has to go through that again. But the way things are going, you don't know."
"I did my duty. I never considered myself a hero," Klein told her. "The ones who got killed were the heroes."
Martin said the Screaming Eagles "were not looking for glory. We were looking for results … You don't lose your humanity. All you do is put it on hold for a while. You go to war because it's necessary.
"I am extremely proud to have served in the 101st because we were, as they call it, the tip of spear. And because of what we did, and the way we did it. That's not bragging at all. It's just what happened," Martin said.
Was it worth it?
"Sure it was worth it. Damn right it was worth it!"
The Ohio broadcast premiere of A Rendezvous with Destiny is 9 p.m. Friday, April 29 on WPTD-TV (Channel 16). It also airs at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 22, on WCET-TV. Hunter's next WWII Beyond The Call film, The Monument of Tolerance, will premiere at the 2022 GI Film Festival in San Diego in May.