World War II veteran Jim “Pee Wee” Martin was presented with The WWII Foundation 2018 “Leadership Award” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force on Saturday, June 9, 2018.

What it’s like to see World War II veterans experience the emotions of the Air Force Museum’s WWII exhibits

Jim Martin walked among historic planes at the National Museum of the United States Air Force on Saturday with memories still vivid more than 70 years later.

For most people, touring the museum is a walk through history. But for the 97-year-old Martin and 93-year-old Ralph Izumi, a visit is more than just a look into the past.

And that past comes flooding back so much differently than for other visitors.

“You can’t even imagine,” Martin said, “what it’s like to see a thousand planes go out on a raid.”

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Martin and Izumi — from Greene County and Barstow, Calif. — met as paratroopers in World War II more than 70 years ago. They served in the same regiment in France as paratroopers, and have kept in contact ever since.

On Saturday, they had a reunion at the museum.

Each man has extensive experience with the planes. Izumi, who served for about 60 years in the Air Force, in the Army and for NASA, was around many of the types of planes in the museum during his service.

Izumi and Martin offer more than just knowledge about the history of the planes, but real world experience with them.

Martin has a utilitarian approach to which planes he likes, and he likes the B-17 and C-47 planes the best.

“Those were indispensable ships,” Martin said.

He doesn’t like the B-24 bomber. It was too easy to shoot down, he said.

“I’ve seen B-17s come back with 10 feet off the wing,” Martin said. “I’ve seen them come back with a tail shot off. It’s a hard one to knock down.”

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Martin, who received a leadership award from the WWII Foundation on Saturday, marvels at the design of the B-17s and said they were three or four generations ahead of technology at the time.

He attributes their success to both the people who maintained the planes and their pilots and vividly recalls seeing the planes fly off on raids.

Though they were surrounded by planes like the ones they served in, Martin said he and Izumi don’t talk about the war very much. Still, the friends of 74 years said they’d gladly do everything over again.

“I will never forget this guy,” Izumi said.

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