'Changed My Life' (Exclusive): Scotty Hasting Reflects on Trip to France for the 80th Anniversary of D-Day

Former Army Infantryman turned singer/songwriter Scotty Hasting still has trouble finding the words to describe the pain he found himself in on April 21, 2011

Published Time: 04.07.2024 - 21:31:09 Modified Time: 04.07.2024 - 21:31:09

Former Army Infantryman turned singer/songwriter Scotty Hasting still has trouble finding the words to describe the pain he found himself in on April 21, 2011.

"It's kind of taking a fire poker, putting it in the fire until it's bright red and then slowly pushing it through your skin,” Hasting, 36, tells PEOPLE in a revealing interview about the terrifying moment he was shot 10 times while fighting in Afghanistan. "The pain was terrible. But the hardest part was smelling what it smells like when you smell your own skin burning. That is the part that still messes with me.”

It's this mess that Hasting still faces 13 years later, wrapped up in a mix of post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD and anxiety and depression that the “I’m America” hitmaker says he continues to battle on a day-to-day basis. But it's this battle that the Army veteran found a way to temporarily conquer last month when invited to represent the United States in Normandy, France during a week-long celebration commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

"The importance of what we were doing outweighed the PTSD and the depression and the anxiety that I was feeling,” explains the Purple Heart recipient. “You were overwhelmed by emotions everywhere you went. And so, it was in the back of my mind, but it wasn't really a thought that I had. I was too busy trying to just be in every moment."

And there was many a moment to bask in during the 10-day, life-altering trip provided by the organization Walk Among Heroes, including the moments Hasting says he was blessed to spend with World War II veteran Dennis Bolt. The trip served as Bolt’s first time being back on the same soil he fought upon when he was just 19 years old.

"I played the Trace Adkins' song ‘Til the Last Shot’s Fired’ and there's a part in it that talks about being on the beach in June of 1944, and as soon as I said that, Bolt's eyes just kind of glazed over," Hasting tearfully remembers. "He was transported into another world in that moment, and I could see it. And it was one of the m -

ost beautiful things I've ever seen in my entire life."

Making the moment even more special was that Hasting then had the chance to walk upon the very same sand that Bolt once did and the same sand that so many men lost their lives upon on that fateful day in 1944.

"I've never felt as small as I did in that moment, walking Utah Beach," remembers Hasting, who performed his rousing songs "Red White and Blue" and "I'm America" for countless veterans and military members throughout the week.

"We went out when it was low tide, and just the amount of space between safety and the water was just so overwhelming that I couldn't just stand there and look at it. I had to walk out and go see it. And then you turn around and you look how far of a distance it is from the water to where they would've been safe to run, it’s just unbelievable. It's so far. These people went through hell in that moment."

Multiple performances and memorable experiences later, Hasting returned to the States with the hope that more Americans could take a similar trip.  

"I think it would be so important for anyone who lives in this country to go over there during that celebration and to see what America means to someone else," says Hasting, who even received the honor of performing on the main stage in the Square of Sainte-Mère-Église for more than 20,000 people.

"Being here in this country, we get caught up in every day and all the crap that life throws at you, and you kind of lose the ability to see what we have. And then you go over there, and you see just this mass appreciation and this overwhelming sense of just loving America."

And it’s this love that will forever burn within the heart of Hasting.

"This trip changed my life," Hasting concludes. "It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, and it was truly one of the greatest things that I've ever gotten to do and probably ever will get to do."

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