This year marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches at Normandy on June 6th, 1944. Huge numbers of people will be at the events surrounding this year’s celebrations, as they know that they may well be attending the last one at which living survivors of that day will be present.
I know this because several of us in my VFW Post tried this past January to make arrangements to be there and found out that we were too late. Everything from accommodations, to car rentals, to tours, were all booked up already.
This story, though, is about one very special man, a survivor of that day, Mr. Jake Larson, who will be in attendance at this year’s D-Day events.
When Larson was 15 years old, he lied about his age so that he could join the National Guard. Little did he know then that he would end up participating in one of the most historic days in the history of warfare a few years later. Larson, who lives in Martinez, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, wears a pin on his hat. It is in the shape of a shield and bears the motto, “To The Last Man.”
I have looked at several articles and the video of Mr. Larson trying to find out which unit he was with. I also looked up the American units that participated in the landings that day, but was unsuccessful in my search to find out which one was his. In the video he is wearing an Infantry patch, but I can’t make out which Infantry unit it is.
Maybe someone out there might be able to identify which Infantry Regiment he was with. One of the bits of information that comes out in the video is that his military records were destroyed back in the 70s in a fire at a Kentucky Army base.
The most important thing about his story is that he is the “Last Man” of his unit still alive. He understands the irony of that pin he wears on his hat much more personally now. And that is a stunning thought.
Those who go to war are always the young. Those who survive the immediacy of war and come home are still, for the most part, young.
Being the last man standing does not enter the thinking of men at that stage. To be lucky enough to survive combat, to come home and to live a long and productive life filled with family and friends, is one thing, but to realize that you are the last man of you era, the last man of your company and your regiment, is another thing altogether.
Larson is the last man.
He is the last man of all those with whom he went ashore on that terrible, terrifying day 75 years ago now. He remembers that day all too well, and says he can remember the ramp of the Higgins boat going down, jumping into the cold waters, hearing the explosions, the sounds of the machine gun bullets buzzing furiously all around, hitting the water, the metal of the Higgins Boat.
He remembers too, being the last man off the boat, making it through the cold waters to the beach and finding a hiding place behind a hump of sand. He remembers how afraid he was and asking the guy next to him there if he had a dry match to light a cigarette, then he realized that the guy’s head was no longer under his helmet.
“I thank that guy today,” he says. “In that instant I had the ability to get up and run.”
Those who know what it is like to storm a beach under fire, or to be in a firefight, understand this “fight or flight” fear that can overwhelm one in such moments. Larson was able to get back into the action because of that strange incident.
Larson considers himself a lucky man today, not just because of having survived that day and the rest of the war, but that he is still alive today, 75 years later.
He feels lucky for another reason too.
A while back he met a young woman at the coffee shop that he goes to most days. Her name was Angela Larsen. They got into a conversation, and she found out about his history. They talked many times after that. Ms. Larsen finally talked to a friend of hers, Linda Linnell, and the two of them started a fundraiser to see if they could raise enough money to make it possible to get Larson to the 75th D-Day anniversary events.
They were successful, and that is why Larson will be one of the last remaining allied survivors of that day in attendance.
The materials that I read and looked at were very sparse in their information about Larson’s military service. We can’t imagine what it was like to be on those boats, or landing on those beaches that day under fierce, directed, intense fire from every conceivable weapon available to the German force there that day.
The war would go on until well into the next year with Larson’s unit participating in the continuing, difficult, and bloody effort to push the Germans back into Germany and to finally defeat the Nazi threat. What I did find out, though, hinted very clearly to the fact that Larson must have been a brave individual, a true warrior.
What was mentioned in several of the articles was the fact that he had been awarded the Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor.
Let us all remember the heroism and the sacrifices undertaken by all of those involved in the D-Day Invasion, and throughout the whole of WWII in Europe and in the Pacific. On this upcoming celebration of D-Day on June 6, 2019, let us remember all those who fought and especially all those who fell on that bloody day. It was their courage and determination that became the beginning of the end of Nazi terror over Europe. Let us think of Mr. Jake Larson on that day too.
He will be there again as the true “Last Man” of his unit.
We can only imagine what thoughts and emotions will be running through his mind. Though he is 96 years of age, he will remember that moment in time from the perspective of the young man that he was that day. May it be one of the proudest and most meaningful days in his long life.
The Veterans Site honors Mr. Jake Larson. We thank him for his service to the nation, for his courage, dedication and the sacrifices he made in those dark days in the allied effort to end Nazi tyranny and to return freedom to the peoples of Europe. We wish to thank Angela Larsen and Linda Linnell for their kindness, generosity and love for this old warrior in making it possible for him to represent his unit at the 75th anniversary D-Day events this year.
God bless you, Jake Larson, and all of the men you represent in your unit that you stand for as the “Last Man.”
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.