A 100-year-old D-Day survivor from Springfield making a return trip to Normandy
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It was quite a send-off at the Montclair Senior Living community on Tuesday as residents and well-wishers turned out to show their love for 100-year-old World War II veteran Jack Hamlin.
Hamlin’s many accolades include the French Legion of Honour, the country’s highest award established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, and being invited to have dinner with Queen Elizabeth II in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
“It’s just an honor to be in his presence,” said Amanda Edwards, the Executive Director at Montclair. “Especially when you go up to his apartment, he has his medals and his pictures, and he talks about having dinner with the Queen of England. You’re just sitting there going, ‘Are you serious!’ Honestly, it’s better than the history books.”
Hamlin is a living piece of history, and he left Springfield on Tuesday for his eighth trip to Normandy. While the last seven trips have been extraordinary experiences, the first one was anything but, coming on June 6, 1944, as a member of the Coast Guard on D-Day. Known as Operation Overlord, the largest invasion force in human history is considered one of the war’s biggest turning points that hastened the Nazi retreat out of Europe and Germany’s eventual defeat.
“Jack went in with the first wave, and his job on D-Day was to tie a 25-yard line around his waist, jump into 45-degree water and swim out to do triage on people after their landing craft or tank sank,” said his friend and Honor Flight of the Ozarks Director Chris Stark.
“And those memories have lived with me for 78 years,” Hamlin said as he stared at the ground and shook his head. “It’s terrible to say you love ‘em, but I’m so happy that I have the mind to still remember everything.”
And the people of France still remember, too, as Hamlin is treated like a rock star every time he returns to Normandy.
“I had 212 messages from England, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France wishing me a save voyage and saying they were waiting for me,” Hamlin said.
“All of the veterans who participated in D-Day are considered liberators,” said Dr. Norman Knowlton, who travels with Hamlin. “So whenever they see them, the first thing they do is hug and kiss them. He says that he expects 500 kisses on this particular trip.”
“I’ll find ladies almost my age who want to be kissed,” Hamlin added. “Believe me, I’m obligated to do it. I’m glad to kiss ‘em.”
Hamlin also got the royal treatment as he left Springfield.
Among the groups greeting him at the Montclair was the Sons of the American Revolution Color Guard.
“The Sons of the American Revolution is an organization that was founded after the Civil War by Union officers who wanted to remind everyone of the value of patriotic service,” explained J. Howard Fisk, the group’s president. “And someone like Jack is just a reminder of who we are and what we stand for.”
Hamlin was escorted to the airport by a motorcade that included the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and the Warriors Watch Riders, a motorcycle organization of around 150 members who do funeral and military escorts around 200 times a year.
“Jack is a member of the greatest generation,” said Wayne Huyck, one of the riders in the motorcade. “He’s somebody that we love to honor, and we know there’s very few of them left.”
As Hamlin gave an emotional “Thank You” to a large group of Greene County Sheriff’s Office members who saluted him as he walked through the airport door, it was great to see that Jack was being honored for his sacrifice while around to enjoy it.
Once inside, there was a slight glitch when the airline had problems processing his ticket because their computers only recognize ages 1 to 99. Hamlin finally made his way to the boarding area, where the airline announced over the public address system that a special guest would be among the passengers flying to Atlanta.
When the announcer explained who Jack was, the crowd burst into applause.
Such is the life of a 100-year-old hero who’s still going strong.
“Mentally, he’s sharper than all of us,” Knowlton said.
And with his 101st birthday coming up in October?
“I’m going to make it,” Hamlin said. “I feel real good, and I’d like to add another couple of years to that!”
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