Jake Larson has a great life in California, with nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. But D-Day was a moment that changed his life forever, and yesterday was the first time in 75 years that the veteran stepped back onto Omaha beach.
"75 years. How come I'm still alive? I'm still alive." Larson said.
Now the last surviving member of his unit, Larson was 21 years old on the fateful day.
"Never in my life did I ever think that I would be standing on Omaha Beach on the 75th anniversary of D-Day," he said. "It's like a dream come true, like I won the lottery. "
The 96-year-old says the beach looks dramatically different today. "The sea here is clear," he said, adding "It was bloody, bodies."
"What can a person say now, except that war is hell," he added.
When Larson was fighting at Omaha Beach, he said he remembers 2,400 rounds firing at him at any one time.
"I stopped for a cigarette behind [a] berm, and my matches were wet," he said. "I turned to-- to my left, and not three feet from me there was a soldier. And I says, 'Buddy, have you got a match?' And he didn't answer. I looked again, and there was no head under the helmet. The soul of that boy inspired me to [get] up at that instant and run for the cliff."
"How does it feel to come back here, Jake?" asked "CBS This Morning" co-host Anthony Mason.
"It's one of the most unbelievable things that can ever happen to me," Larson responded, adding "I never figured I'd be even livin' this long."
Larson almost didn't make it here -- and it wasn't because of his age. It was funding: Veteran organizations were going to help, Larson said, but when they discovered that his service records had been burned, they "dropped me like a hot potato."
But two women at his favorite coffee shop, the Bagel Street Cafe in Martinez, California, decided to raise money for him through a crowdfunding site. Larson is well known at the shop – he used to drive himself there six days a week until he couldn't drive anymore.
"When they told me they were gonna put that on the internet or some place […] I said, 'I'm gonna get one of the chairs here and get a tin cup and sit out in front. And I'll bet you I'll pick up more right outside here than you will through-- through that.' I said, "Who is gonna pay money for me to go over there?' Larson recalled.
Larson said the act of kindness will help him publish his book, which he hopes to call "The Luckiest Man in the World."
Larson still wears a pin bearing the motto of his unit, "to the last man," on his hat. And as his unit's last man, he told Mason that he wants people not to remember him – but to remember "all those guys that sacrificed their lives for freedom that we all enjoy today," and that "freedom is not free."
for more features.