100 year-old Springfield WWII vet attends 80th anniversary Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - He just turned 100 years-old in October and now gets around in a wheelchair. But Jack Hamlin still had a sparkle in his eye and a smile on his face Thursday as he returned from a week-long trip to Hawaii where the World War II veteran got to attend the 80th anniversary remembrance ceremony for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A handful of friends greeted Hamlin at the Springfield-Branson National Airport and you could tell he was choking up as he thanked everyone for coming to welcome him home.
“There’s no place like Springfield, Missouri,” he said. “I’ve lived here all my life. Many times people probably wanted to kick me out of here but I stayed anyway. It’s been a wonderful life.”
The latest chapter in that life was an invitation to go to Pearl Harbor from Donnie Edwards, a former linebacker for the Chiefs and Chargers, who started a non-profit organization to help and celebrate veterans known as the Best Defense Foundation.
“The ceremony was wonderful,” Hamlin said. “At one point there were 500 children performing on a field out in front of us. But it was also emotional seeing the U.S.S. Arizona memorial. The idea that you’re there with some of the survivors and I’m sitting next to one of ‘em who told me he got half his body burned. He said he had to jump in the bloody water with its blazing oil to save his own life.”
Hamlin knows all about swimming around in bloodied waters as he was a Coast Guard petty officer who took part in the Invasion of Normandy, one of the turning points of the war.
So he and the Pearl Harbor survivor had something in common.
“He said to me, ‘You went through hell too,’” Hamlin recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, I did. And so did you!’”
“His job on D-Day, as they went in with the first wave (at Omaha Beach), was to tie a 25-yard line around his waist and jump into 45-degree water,” said Chris Stark, an Honor Flight Director and friend of Hamlin. “He’d swim out and do triage on people after their tank or landing craft got sunk.”
“It was terrible,” Hamlin recalled during a 2012 interview when he was about to make a trip to Washington on the Honor Flight. “We had orders that if they were severely injured and you thought they had no chance of living, leave them alone and get to the ones you knew you could save.”
“I don’t think about it anymore,” Hamlin said on Thursday of his wartime experiences. “I’ve forgotten a lot of what happened and people always ask me if I can sleep at night. Now it doesn’t bother me. I don’t think about it.”
Jack has gone back to Normandy seven times, gone on the honor flight to Washington and received accolades ranging from the French Legion of Honor to a key to the city of Springfield.
And oh yeah, just a few years ago in his late 90′s, he went skydiving.
“It was a tandem jump and Jack got out on the strut and wouldn’t let go,” recalled Stark. “The instructor had to pull his hand off it and when he did he torn some skin off his hand. He had all this blood and so they took him to the hospital to get sewed up and when he told the doctor how it happened, everybody there went nuts and he was the center of attention. But he flew pretty well, had a good landing and had a great time.”
Hamlin tends to have a great time no matter where he goes and even though the number of World War II veterans is dwindling every day, this 100 year-old member of our Greatest Generation vows to keep going strong.
“Live another 100 years,” he said with a smile. “But I hope we never have another war. Everybody’s got to realize that they’ve got to teach the history to the young children in school. They need to understand what their fathers and grandfathers went through to save this country and make freedom.”
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