WACONIA, Minn. (KMSP) - World War II veterans are dying every day, often taking their stories with them. But on Cherry Street in Waconia, Minn. there's a senior living community where the memories are quite vivid.
"They'd come down with their guns. They never hit nobody. They were poor shots, they never hit nobody,” said Jim Geyen, 91, who served in the US Navy from 1943-1946.
Although the Veteran’s Administration reports that nearly 500 WWII veterans die every day, at the Lighthouse of Waconia Senior Living community you can often find three—if not more—hanging out in the same room.
"You know, we try to forget. There's lots of things I wouldn't tell," says Harry Johnson, 94.
Johnson was drafted in 1943, shortly after marrying his wife, Louella.
“My wife, I remember she cried and cried. The family cried, but it was our duty to defend our country,” Johnson said.
Unlike many of his comrades, he survived battles in France and Belguim, going on to fight on the beaches of Normandy. It was there that he took shrapnel to his knee and chest.
“An 88 tank exploded pretty close, knocked me out for three or four minutes. Then I finally got up and blood was dripping out every step I took so I just laid there,” Johnson said.
For months, his family didn't know if he was alive or dead. He was taken to a field hospital where they operated on his knee in a tent, eventually being sent home to Minnesota for further care.
While out in the South Pacific, Geyen was fighting another enemy -- the Japanese.
“All of a sudden we hear bang and the ship just shook,” Geyen said. “We knew right away we got hit by a suicide plane."
Geyen served on a ship named Natoma Bay. He said it was nicknamed the ‘lucky ship’ after the crew was able to avoid any major attacks.
The youngest of the trio is Sydney Reed, 89, who fought on the beaches and swamps surrounding Japan. He says with many of his friends left dead on the battlefield, he often wonders why he came out alive.
“You wonder why? Here I am. I can't figure that out.”
He said as much as he loves his country, as a soldier, WWII became about survival.
“You don't really think about the country as a whole, you just think about yourself. That shouldn't be the case, but that's really what it is."