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101-year-old World War II vet becomes viral TikTok sensation for role in D-Day invasion

Honoring Papa Jake, a hero of World War 2 and a TikTok star
Honoring Papa Jake, a hero of World War 2 and a TikTok star 03:58

MINNEAPOLIS — A 101-year-old soldier helped win World War II, but more recently he's taken his talents to the internet — TikTok in particular.

Meet Papa Jake Larson. 

"I'm 101 going on 102," said Larson. "Hell, I'm the luckiest man in the world. Look at me, I'm sitting here. Think of it. I'm walking history."

Larson is always witty, wise, and to the point.

He's a self-described farm boy from rural, Minnesota, and he grew up during the Great Depression with no electricity or running water. He lied about his age so he could join the National Guard at the age of 15. A few years later, he found himself in World War II.

"I never thought I'd be going to war," said Larson. 

Not only was Larson sent to France, he got in on the planning of the D-Day invasion. He learned to type in high school and knew as much about typewriters as he did about guns.

"It changed my life," said Larson. "It raised me right up to the top."

So, when military leaders like Eisenhower and Bradley began preparing for D-Day, it was Larson who helped type their plans.

"Every person who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day....came through these fingers. These fingers I'm showing you right now, typing their name," said Larson. 

That also meant typing his own name.

"It was hell," Larson recalled. "That whole beach under us had over 1 million land mines planted."

From planning to fighting, he was the first man off the command boat and was responsible for helping to organize soldiers on Omaha Beach. At 101, he's outlived many of the men who fought with him that day.

"I feel like I'm a messenger for these guys that gave their life," said Larson.

Larson delivers that message through a platform most centenarians aren't familiar with, thanks to his granddaughter. 

"She came home and said 'Papa, I'm going to put you on with me on TikTok,' What the hell is TikTok?" joked Larson. 

Within a week, he had more than 10,000 followers. It's been a way to connect the greatest generation with the youngest generation. They post about sporting events, but also about ceremonies where they celebrate veterans, not athletes.

Earlier this week, Larson returned to Normandy. The D-Day invasion he helped plan, happened at these beaches. And there's a reason why even at his age, Larson feels the need to keep coming back.

"I come back to honor their souls. They are my buddies. They're up there right now," said Larson. "They're up there. Waiting for me." 

In France,  Larson felt the love. People of all ages know who he is, and come out of the woodwork just to be near this hero.

"They treat me like a celebrity and I'm just a farm boy from Hope, Minnesota. It's crazy. It's plain crazy," said Larson. 

He hopes this isn't his last trip to Normandy, because his mission now is to make sure the fallen aren't forgotten. 

"I lived through this stuff. I'm like a history book. I can't help it," said Larson. 

In addition to being a TikTok star, Larson is also an author. He wrote a book called "The Luckiest Man in the World."

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