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Hometown Heroes: World War II Veteran Receives French Government's Highest Honor

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A World War II veteran from Springfield receives the highest honor from the French government, the Legion of Honor medal.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A World War II veteran from Springfield receives the highest honor from the French government, the Legion of Honor medal.

KOLR10's Melanie Chapman spoke with Jack Hamlin,  who traveled to France on the 70th anniversary of D-Day to accept this honor.

The U.S. cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy, France is a reminder of the sacrifices thousands made during World War II. 

A lot has changed in 70 years, this commemoration in France on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, was a last chance to say 'thank you' in person to many of the veterans. 

"I went to represent the ones who are buried there or are buried back home, they were never found, lost in the water," says Jack Hamlin of Springfield. "Something happened to them, they were blown up ...they didn't to return. I got to return. I was in the good shape."

Jack Hamlin, 93, 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. 

For his service, Jack received the highest honor from french government,  "This is my Legion of honor medal!" Hamlin says with pride.

Jack revisited Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day but says this recent trip was life changing.

"This time, I got to meet the French people and how they appreciate what we did. We liberated them from the evil's of Hitler. We were grabbed, we were taken here we were just picked up VIP treatment. We couldn't go anywhere without being stopped on the street."

Jack was surrounded by world leaders, dignitaries, admirals, but he and other veterans had the spot light. 

The French paid tributes in many different ways. Re-enactments, parades, Jack was with overcome with pride...
"Its something that I'll never forget. Really you can't and I'm so sorry that more veterans could not attend. Well you have to stop and think, they are all in their late 80's.  I'm 93. I'll never go back again."

Walt Cameron traveled with Jack, "The french were so excited to see someone like Jack who's able bodied who could speak so well who could really receive the honor and respect that they are wanting to give it to an American and he was the catalyst for that," Cameron says. 

Jack has lived an amazing life. Pro-baseball, champion golfer, successful businessman, husband and father. At 20 years old this young sailor from Springfield, Missouri was sent on a mission that would change history.  Seven decades later, he holds this honor...

"I never would have dreamed, absolutely...a little sailor. It was quite an honor, it really was. I'm very very proud," Hamlin says.

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