Having written two books about World War II, I couldn’t wait to meet Papa Jake Larson, almost one hundred and two years old and one of our last remaining veterans of that conflict. And more incredibly, he was living close by in Martinez.

As I was about to discover, this amazing man and his extraordinary history might have gone unnoticed by most people had it not been for a small group of friends at the Bagel Street Café in Martinez.
In 2019, he mentioned he would like to go to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, 6th of June. He wanted to pay homage to his fallen comrades. However, most of his military records had been destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis in 1973. He couldn’t prove he had fought in Normandy and been awarded a bronze star for meritorious service in a combat zone. The family did some investigation and finally found supporting documents.

In order to afford the travel, friends Linda Lannell and her daughter Janna started a GoFundMe campaign that got support from all over the world, which quickly exceeded $10,000.
But how did a country boy from Minnesota attract such notoriety and survive some of the deadliest battles of the war? Self-labeled as the “Luckiest Man in the World,” he pointed his finger upwards, saying, “Somebody up there is taking care of me.”
It began in high school, where he took an option—learning to type—believing that it would help him progress in life, the only boy in a class of girls. It was a fortuitous decision.
His father at first refused to allow him to go to high school since he was needed for chores on the farm. But his older brother offered to take them on, and his father relented.
Later, penniless, he and his cousin decided to join the National Guard, soon to become the US Army after Pearl Harbor, to earn $12 a month. Big for his age, he lied about it and was fortunate the recruitment officer never questioned it. He was only 15 years old. Four years later, he found himself shipped off to war.
While stationed in Northern Ireland with the 135th infantry as the company clerk, he was shocked when he was transferred from the infantry to the G 3 Operations—Training and Planning for Fifth Corps. Such a move was unheard of in the army, and it happened just because he could type 50 words a minute. He also got a promotion to corporal. Luck followed him soon afterward.
When most of the 135th were shipped out to North Africa, because of his clerical skills, he was singled out by Colonel John Hill. “You and I are moving to Portsmouth, England,” he said.
For the next two years, he found himself involved in the planning for the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach. “As a top-secret BIGOT (British Invasion of Germany Occupied Territory), I typed the name of every single man who landed on Omaha Beach,” he said, holding out his hands— 34,000 names.
He later survived the landing on the beach because he was the first onto the landing craft and, therefore, the last man off. As the men ran single file up the mine-filled beach, dodging machine gun and mortar fire, he followed in the footsteps of the man in front of him, knowing he would be safe. There would either be no mines, or they would already have exploded!
Having dug a foxhole in which to pass the night, he was suddenly ordered by the colonel to take the night shift at the command post. Lucky for him. In the morning, he found that a huge piece of shrapnel had fallen directly into the hole. If he had slept there, he would most certainly have been seriously wounded and possibly killed.
When I asked Jake for more details about D-Day once he landed at 10:00 AM, it was curious that other than for the first hour and then at nightfall, his mind was almost blank. Advancing inland, and as the clerical assistant to Colonel Hill, he was involved in the battles of St Lo followed by that of Paris, where for this first time in two months he had a proper shower.
Finally, he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, where the US suffered 90,000 casualties and 19,000 killed. Miraculously, he was never seriously injured. After one near-death incident, Colonel Hill remarked, “You’re like a cat with nine lives.” When he was demobilized six months later at the age of 22, he had been a soldier for seven years.
Jake has returned to Normandy each year since 2019’s 75th D-Day anniversary. This June he was flown in for the 80th anniversary of the invasion and as he told me, “The ones that did not make it back from the war are the real heroes.” Then he repeated, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.” And this man’s your neighbor.
Michael Barrington writes mainly historical novels: “Let the Peacock Sing”, “The Ethiopian Affair”, “Becoming Anya”, “The Baron of Bengal Street”, “No Room for Heroes”, “Passage to Murder” is a murder/mystery. “Magic at Stonehenge” is a collection of 42 short stories and Take a Priest Like You”. www.mbwriter.net.

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