Centenarian veterans share their memories of D-Day

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy that helped lead to Hitler's defeat.

By

World News

June 5, 2024 - 1:27 PM

World War II and D-Day veteran Jake Larson visits the grave of a soldier from his unit at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Photo by AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — World War II veterans from the United States, Britain and Canada are in Normandy this week to mark 80 years since the D-Day landings that helped lead to Hitler’s defeat.

Few witnesses remain who remember the Allied assault. The Associated Press is speaking to veterans about their role in freeing Europe from the Nazis, and what messages they have for younger generations.

PAPA JAKE

“Thank you, guys. Thank you.” Sitting in a wheelchair in front of the graves of fallen comrades at the Normandy American Cemetery, D-Day veteran Jake Larson wanted to let them know out loud that they are the real heroes for giving their lives for the liberation of France and Europe from Nazi Germany — not him.

The 101-year-old American, best known on social media under the name “Papa Jake,” with more than 800,000 followers on TikTok, Larson said “I’m a ‘here-to.’

“People say what is a ‘here-to’? I say I’m here to tell you I’m not a hero. It’s those guys up there that gave their life so that I could make it through. That’s what a ‘here-to’ is.”

Larson likes to describe himself as “the luckiest man in the world.”

“How is it possible that I went through five battles, plus landing on Omaha Beach without getting a scratch? Say there is a God. God just protected me.”

Born in Owatonna, Minnesota, Larson enlisted in the National Guard in 1938, lying about his age as he was only 15.

In 1941, his guard unit was transferred into federal service and he officially joined the Army. In January 1942, he was sent overseas and was stationed in Northern Ireland. He then became the operations sergeant and assembled the planning books for Operation Overlord.

He landed on Omaha Beach in 1944, where he ran under machine-gun fire and made it to the cliffs without being wounded.

“I’m lucky to be alive, more than lucky. I had planned D-Day. And everybody else that was in there with me is gone,’’ said Larson, who now lives in Lafayette, California.

FLOYD BLAIR

Floyd Blair, 103, served as a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps. On June 6, 1944, he flew in two support missions across Omaha Beach as the Allied invasion began.

“I saw one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. The color of the water changed,” he recalled Tuesday as he was paying tribute to fallen comrades at the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.

“Those poor guys on the ground deserve all the credit they can get. The paratroopers, the armored forces, the ground troops. They are the ones,” he said.

After D-Day, Blair participated in missions to support and protect Allied troops. His targets included German tanks, troop trains and other threats to the advancing troops and his radio was tied directly into the U.S. tanks on the ground.

BOB GIBSON

“I’m living on borrowed time now,” Bob Gibson, 100, said enthusiastically as he arrived at the Deauville airport in Normandy. “I want to see the beach again.”

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