92-year-old Jack Hamlin will to receive the highest honor from the French government on June 6 for his service in Normandy, the Legion of Honor.
“We did our part,” says Hamlin. “We were there for one thing. It was to rescue people. It was not to kill anybody. It was the idea that we were there to rescue save them as quickly as we could and get them to a hospital ship and do what we could to help them out.”
Hamlin signed up to play for the New York Yankees Farm Club in 1939, but rheumatic fever ended his baseball career. He went on to join the coast guard.
On D-Day 1944, at 20 years old, he was sent on a mission that would change history.
“We really didn't have any idea what we were going to do,” says Hamlin. “But there were five beaches.”
Hamlin was on one of 60 small vessels sent in to rescue the wounded and drowning at Omaha Beach. He and his shipmates saved 1,438 soldiers and one female nurse.
“They were all alive,” he says. “At least there were some in the water that you didn't take out of the water. They were already, they were deceased. And we had orders to get as many as you could. Get them on board and if they are seriously injured, get them back to the hospital ships...in other words that meant you had to leave some of them in water, and the water, well the water was cold.”
It’s a day few talk about and few want to remember.
“Most of it stays with you,” says Hamlin. “I thought about it a lot and tried to forget about it as far as that's concerned. Now see, we didn't consider ourselves the heroes. We considered those in the water, those that were killed, that were maimed, they were your heroes.”
Hamlin escaped injury and jokes he just got wet. He can't understand why he's being honored.
On the 50 anniversary of D-Day, the British government invited him to have dinner with the queen of England. Two years ago, Hamlin went on the Honor Flights of the Ozarks to visit the DC WWII memorial. He gets emotional thinking about seeing those once strong young men now wheelchair bound.
“You get on the bus and a lot of your comrades there are in wheelchairs and I feel so lucky,” says Hamlin.
“As Jack said, he's representing all these veterans,” says Walt Cameron, president of Honor Flights of the Ozarks. “It’s not about him, its bout the total collective effort of all those greatest generation soldiers that made possible for us to live the lives that we live.”
“So, I go just to represent the ones that are not there,” says Hamlin. “I feel that I owe something to them to be there to represent them. Not me, but to represent them.”
Some of the men Hamlin rescued are from Missouri and their families have reached out to thank him.
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