The Greatest Generation nickname brings to mind the Army and its Air Corps, the Navy and Marine Corps, but one service is sometimes overlooked – the Coast Guard.
Coast Guard veteran Jack Hamlin was just 20 years old on June 6, 1944. While he never got closer than two miles to the beach, he saw enough to last a lifetime. “Things you never forget,” is the way he described them.
He was part of Rescue Flotilla 1. The 60 wood-hulled patrol craft were transported to England from the U.S. ahead of the operation. Known as the “Matchbox Fleet” for their wood construction, they were distributed evenly among the landing beaches on the morning of June 6 to do what the Coast Guard has always done – save lives.
Hamlin said his unit was responsible for rescuing nearly 1,450 troops – including a female nurse who’d been blown off a ship – from the icy waters of the English Channel that day. Many of the rescued were in danger of drowning because of the excessive equipment they carried – 100 pounds, he estimated. Others were injured and it took time to get them in the wooden boats without injuring them further. Once in the boats, they were transported to hospital ships 10 miles off the beach.
Hamlin, 93, a Springfield, Missouri, resident will be receiving France’s Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration, on June 6. On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he found himself dining with the Queen of England and shaking her hand. For all this, he said it’s not about him. It’s about those he couldn’t save.
Coverage of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day will continue and include the June 6 ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery.
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