‘We knowed what we had to do’: Kentucky World War II veteran remembers frenzy of D-Day

Charles Adams hit the beach behind schedule.

On the fateful morning of June 6, 1944, the landing craft accompanying Adams’ unit of combat engineers was overloaded and overmatched by the choppy seas off the coast of Normandy.

“The water was so rough, it got over the sides of the boat and sunk,” recalled Adams, who lives in Bowling Green. “So we lost all of the equipment. We fooled with that for probably eight hours. (But) we didn’t miss anything. It was still all there.”

Seventy-five years later, Adams laughs at a memory from his first day in combat, and he laughs again at the folly of his own fearlessness at the age of 18 on D-Day.

“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I guess I was crazy. I don’t want to put no brag on myself, but I played football with the big 200-pound people. One time I weighed 90 pounds and was playing against a 200-pound football player, and he didn’t scare me more than anything else.

“I ain’t got a bit of sense when it came to that.”

More than 2,000 Americans would lose their lives on D-Day, and the bloodiest fighting occurred on the same stretch of sand where Adams came ashore, 5 miles of French coastline code named Omaha Beach.

At 93, Adams is unable to forget the sight of lifeless bodies floating in the water that day, and he remembers thinking, “Thank the Lord it’s not me.” But he believed in the mission and continued to move forward as the Allies fought to free Europe from Nazi occupation.

“What are you going to do?” he asked. “Turn around and walk away? … We knowed what we had to do. If we didn’t do it, you’d be saying, ‘Sieg Heil.'”

While playing his small part in what Gen. Dwight Eisenhower called “The Great Crusade,” Adams would earn a Purple Heart, nearly lose his legs from occupying a frozen foxhole at the Battle of the Bulge, encounter Gen. George Patton while building a pontoon bridge and stand guard at the postwar prison housing defendants on trial in Nuremberg.

Serving mainly as a mechanic, Adams rose to the rank of staff sergeant and would be one of the youngest participants in the greatest seaborne invasion in history.

Just 16 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 — two years below the Army’s standard minimum age — Adams secured his mother’s permission to enlist early.

“Daddy didn’t want much of it, but my mother’s signature was all I needed anyway,” he said. “I took it to the draft board, and they said they’d put me on the list. They said it (would) probably be about seven or eight months before we call.

“I started back into (Bowling Green High) school. I was in 11th grade, and they knocked on the door. It was Feb. 13. I thought it was a Valentine’s prank or something, but there were three soldier boys with (military police) stripes on. I told them I was 16. They said, ‘Well, you’re old enough now.'”

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