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'Luckiest Man Alive': Donations Help World War II Veteran Attend D-Day Commemoration

A technicality prevented the Army from sponsoring Jake Larson's Normandy trip, but that didn't stop his friends and complete strangers from stepping up

Jake Larson considers himself to be the luckiest man alive.

Not only did the 96-year-old World War II veteran survive the perilous D-Day invasion in 1944, he managed to return to France earlier this month for the 75th anniversary commemoration thanks to an outpouring of financial support from friends and complete strangers.

"When I say I'm the luckiest man in the world, sitting here like this here, looking back at what I've gone through, I don't know how anyone could dispute it," Larson said after returning from his trip to Normandy.

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Making it to France for the commemoration was at first a dream Larson didn't see coming true. While the Army sponsors trips for veterans to travel to their battlefields, Larson, the only living survivor from his unit that stormed the beaches of Normandy, wasn't eligible because his military records were destroyed in a military base fire.

But that technicality didn't stop Larson's friends at Bagle Street Cafe in Martinez from going to battle for him. They created a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise enough money to cover his travel costs so he could return to France to honor his fallen brothers in arms.

The online fundraising effort took off, surpassing the $10,000 goal by more than $1,000.

While in Normandy, Larson shook hands with President Donald Trump and made national headlines sharing his harrowing memories from D-Day.

Larson's story has moved within total strangers, prompting them to send him letters of gratitude, checks and cash.

"If it weren't for brave men like you, we wouldn't have the freedom we enjoy today," one of the letters to Larson read. "You are a true hero and a star, a very bright star, in this world."

"It kind of touches (me) when I'm called a hero," Larson reflected. "I visited the heroes at the cemetery. That's why I made it. They sacrificed their life."

Jerry Brown, Larson's friend from the East Bay bagel shop, said Larson has received letters and money from people all over the country.

"Jake represents himself as a wonderful, wonderful individual, but at the same time, he also represents all those people that have come and gone, and I think people took that to heart," Brown said.

A man who set his girlfriend on fire in San Francisco's Bayview District during an argument in 2013 was sentenced this week to 27 years in prison, according to prosecutors.

The entire experience, from the trip back to Normandy to reading and listening to the kind words from strangers, has left Larson in awe.

"It is so unbelievable," Larson said. "I have to pinch myself once in awhile to make sure this is happening to me. Even when I wake up in the morning, I'm sleeping in my own bed and I say, 'Did this really happen to you? Were you back in France celebrating D-Day?' So amazing. It's far beyond my expectations in life."

Larson might be 96 now, but he isn't resting. He is working to publish a book, using the extra donations he has received to help him along the way.

He has the perfect title in mind: "Luckiest Man Alive."

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