Posted: Nov 10, 2011 6:37 PM by Ariel Wesler
Updated: Nov 10, 2011 10:03 PM
Veterans Day is tomorrow and December 7th will mark the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That infamous day threw the U.S. into World War II, ultimately claiming more than 400,000 American lives. Today, there are about two million World War II veterans left nationwide.
One o'clock in the morning--D-Day--June 6th 1944. The world was at war and Sergeant Charles Asay was preparing to parachute into Normandy, France.
"When you're trying to take care of 17 people, you're really not thinking about yourself," Asay said.
He was part of the 101st Airborne, an elite division, that launched the initial invasion hours before the first wave of troops stormed the beaches.
"There was rifle fire, machine gun fire, all these big Normandy hedgerows, perfect cover for the Germans," Asay said.
With men scattered across the drop zone, the allies relied on clickers to identify their own troops.
"You click once, if the guys a friendly, he'll "click twice," Asay explained.
At the Battle of Carentan in france--Asay had a bullet go through his wrist.
"A sniper just hit me right there and came out over there. Had he been a quarter inch lower, he would have taken my hand off."
Later that year, he would parachute into Holland and fight in the Battle of the Bulge, where an intense fire fight in Belgium nearly took his life.
"A shell went off behind me and the lights went out," Asay said.
He woke up in a belgium hospital and realized with his blonde hair and blue eyes, the nurse had mistaken him for a German soldier.
"She says you've been operated on. You are a German officer aren't you? They slapped me on the gurney, took me over to the American side. I never will forget that."
Asay still has the pieces of the mortar shell doctors removed from his body.
"Took out part of my right shoulder, blade, broke my ribs, and punctured my right lung," Asay said.
But after four months of recovery, he was determined to rejoin his division.
"Responsibility is taking care of people around you," he said.
Asay hitchhiked across France and reunited with his men in Germany, where they spent the rest of the war. At 89- years-old, he doesn't credit luck for his survival, but fate.
"You know, I've had guys stand right next to me and the next moment, they're gone," Asay said. "I've always believed if it's your turn to go, you're going to go and that's what I've lived by even today."
He choked up a bit when I asked him how many close friends he had lost in the war.
"That's a hard question. One is too many."
Meanwhile, his house has become a hands-on museum of sorts. A chance to stare into the past
"I have 3 purple hearts," Asay said.
And learn from a man willing to share his wartime experiences with the world.
"I'm in about 4 or 5 books on World War II."
The Santa Maria man still attends annual reunions with his wife, Virginia, to reminisce with fellow paratroopers.
"I stop and look back on them and think how they were when we were young, and the things we did. It's remarkable," Asay said. "To me, it was a great adventure."
And the rest is history.
Asay was interviewed for the book "The Longest Day" by Cornelius Ryan, which later became a movie.
Serving their country has become a family affair. Each of Asay's four sons served in a different branch of the military.
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