US veteran and social media star, 100, in France for D-Day anniversary

Jake Larson has found fame on TikTok recounting his experiences as a soldier in the first wave of US troops to land on Omaha Beach in 1944

This year marks the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control
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A US veteran and social media star, 100, is among those returning to Normandy this week for D-Day commemorations.

Jake Larson from San Francisco, who was born in December 1922, broadcasts to around 600,000 people on TikTok.

Nicknamed Papa Jake, he recounts episodes from his life, including his experiences as a soldier in the first wave of US troops to land at Omaha Beach.

Mr Larson is among veterans - many of them now centenarians - back in Normandy this week to mark the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control.

He was set to be present at a ceremony in Ver-sur-Mer on Tuesday (June 6), which will also be attended by France’s defence minister, Sébastien Lecornu, his British counterpart Ben Wallace and the UK’s ambassador to Paris, Dame Menna Rawlings.

@storytimewithpapajake Im headed back to Normandy! If you see me, make sure to say hello to your Papa Jake ❤️ #ww2veteran #ww2history #ddayanniversary #dday79 #dday #normandy #omahabeach #ddaylandings #papajake ♬ Here Comes the Sun - HERDIANSYAH

‘I just want to honour those who were killed’

Back in 1944, Mr Larson was among the US soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach. They had to jump into neck-high water and found themselves in the sights of two German machine guns.

In an interview for French radio, Jake describes how his life was saved when he tripped on a rock and stumbled. Bullets from the Germans passed over his head, but hit the soldier behind him, killing him.

He was able to make it to the comparative shelter provided by cliffs when the machine guns stopped to reload.

Later, after finding a stretcher and setting it up in a trench to sleep, Mr Larson was called for guard duty. Shortly after he left his trench, shrapnel from an anti-aircraft shell ripped through the stretcher.

Asked about his TikTok success, Jake Larson said he did not do it to appear a hero.

“All I want is to make sure that the memory of those who were killed is honoured,” he said.

This year’s return to the Normandy beaches is the second for him – he made the voyage in 2022 also.

It was organised by an American organisation Best Defense Foundation, which supports veterans, organises battlefield visits and arranged for veterans to speak to school children.

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, were not due at the Ver-sur-Mer ceremony but instead attended the annual remembrance and passing out parade of the Ecole fusiliers marins, a French marine unit.

The ceremony remembers the 177 French soldiers grouped into the Kieffer commando who took part in D-Day operations, alongside 132,000 allied troops, mainly from Britain, the US and Canada.

On Monday (June 5), President Macron officially launched preparations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day next year, where many heads of state and government are expected to attend.

Before the main memorial ceremony Mr Lecornu, the British ambassador and the UK defence minister made a spontaneous visit to Pegasus Bridge on the Caen canal between Caen and Ouistreham which was captured on the night before D-Day by British airborne troops and which lays claim to be the first part of France to be liberated from the Germans.

In a Twitter post, the ambassador wrote: “Two defence ministers listening to stories of bravery with veterans and their relatives. Events that bind us then and now.”

The British Normandy Memorial was opened on June 6, 2021, by King Charles III, who was then Prince of Wales.

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