On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 troops, roughly 73,000 American, landed on the beaches of Normandy, tasked with taking control of the area and creating a foothold for Europe and France to be liberated from Nazi Germany’s control.
The battle began just after midnight, with the 101st Airborne Division stationing at Utah Beach while the 82nd Airborne followed at 2:30 a.m. At 5:30 a.m., troops landed on the five beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, an estimated 10,000 soldiers, 6,603 American, had lost their lives fighting.
Jake M. Larson, better known as “Papa Jake,” is one of the soldiers who survived. Today he’s known as the last surviving member of his unit, as well as a TikTok star.
According to VA News, Larson’s fame journey began in 2019. He petitioned the military to sponsor a trip back to Normandy; however, he was intelligible as his military records had been destroyed in a fire.
Larson’s friends organized an online fundraiser, and in 2019, Larson made it back to Normandy to “honor all those soldiers buried over there that didn’t get a chance to come home’, according to TODAY.
Today, Larson hosts his TikTok account, @Storytimewithpapajake, where he shares his life and stories with 616,500 followers. The first TikTok featuring Larson was posted on June 6, 2020, where he gives a detailed account of landing on Omaha Beach. Larson was just 21 years of age when he stormed the beaches at Normandy, having lied about his date of birth to join the military at age 15.
Now 100 years old, Larson returned once more to Normandy on June 5, this time accompanied by other World War II veterans in a ceremony to mark the 79th anniversary of the landing.
Larson posted a TikTok announcing the trip to his followers, expressing his excitement and gratitude to the Best Defense Foundation, lead by Katherine and Donnie Edwards, and his TikTok followers. With a smile that belies his age, Larson calls himself the “luckiest man in the world.”
While marking the anniversary, Larson went to the Pegasus Memorial, marking the site where troops took control of a bridge necessary for strategic planning, met his fellow veteran survivors and participated in a parade at Sainte-Mere-Eglise along the route paratroopers had jumped in 1944.
Larson appreciates his fame, even as he seems somewhat bewildered.
“I’m just a country boy,” he said, according to Military Times. “Now I’m a Tik Tok star. You can see me all over: ‘Papa Jake.’ I’m a legend. I didn’t plan this; it came about.”
“I’m 100 years old without an ache or a pain,” he added. “You can’t fake that.”