By Kristen Miller
The 65th anniversary of D-Day may have passed, but the memories live on and so did the Battle of Normandy three months after it began on June 6, 1944.
Cokato’s own Jim Haapala landed on those beaches in Normandy just days after what would be the beginning of the end for the Nazis’ control over Europe.
Haapala was a US Army corporal serving in the ground force attached to the 9th Air Force.
He remembers the beaches being quiet by then, but having to land there in order to get further into Normandy for the battle.
One of his main duties was to work on the B-17 bombers, the biggest bomber to be used in World War II, Haapala said.
June Shuneson, also of Cokato, remembers that time in history as well.
Her brother, Leland Clausen, was 24 when he died in the Battle of Normandy.
“There was a lot of uncertainty, but we always had that hope they would find him,” Shuneson said.
Clausen was born in Annandale before the family moved to northern Minnesota. He returned to the area and worked on a farm in Cokato before going to war.
Though the family presumed he was dead after so much time having passed without hearing from him, the family didn’t receive confirmation until the next December.
The letter from the War Department stated he died from a severe penetrating gunshot wound to his arm on June 13.
According to the letter, he died that same day from the injury, due to shock.
He is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial overlooking Omaha Beach, where the Normandy battle began.
This was the first American cemetery on European soil and contains 9,387 grave sites.
This cemetery is also where the recent commemoration of the 65th anniversary of D-Day was conducted.