Local WWII veteran reflects on D-Day on 75th anniversary
75 years ago today, thousands of young men stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. Charlie Hauptman was among them. Many men didn't make it home. Now, Hauptman makes it his mission to tell their stories and honor their memories.
Hauptman is now 96 years old. He joined the Navy at 17 years old.
"A friend of mine, he had a brother that died in Pearl Harbor," Hauptman said. "It made me mad, so I joined the Navy. I enlisted, but if I hadn't, the Army probably would have drafted me anyway."
Because he was so young, his mom had to sign off on his enlistment.
"I dropped out of school in 11th grade," Hauptman said. "She wasn't real happy about it, but she knew that's what I wanted to do."
Overall, Hauptman says he looks back on his time in the Navy fondly. He met his wife during WWII, and even met Winston Churchill.
"He was up there in the ocean and he came aboard one of the big ships and climbed up the ladder on the outside," Hauptman said of Churchill. "And he's pretty chubby, you know. I remember three or four guys pushing on him trying to get him up the side of the ship."
But it wasn't all fun and games for the young sailor.
On June 6, 1944, he was driving boatloads of men to Utah and Omaha beaches in Normandy.
"When you're in an emergency situation, you don't think, you just do," Hauptman said. "I wasn't scared, I was just doing what I needed to do. The only thing that really bothered me was running over the people in the water with the propellers. I knew it was just eating them up. But, they couldn't have lived. Most of them were face down already."
Hauptman won't call himself a hero, but his son says he saved his captain's life on D-Day, and nursed a sailor who had been shot in the foot.
"He's a living hero," said Doug Hauptman, Charlie's son. "He was my hero growing up, just listening to his war stories, it was incredible."
Doug says he's only seen his dad shed tears a handful of times, but he's only seen him truly weep once.
"That was when we went back to Normandy," Doug said. "He says,'Why am I not here with these guys?' And I said 'Well, somebody has to tell the story. And that's what you guys who made it back were charged with."
Hauptman says he still thinks of the men who died, and he continues to tell their stories to honor their memories.
"Really there's nobody around anymore," Hauptman said. "They're all gone, so it's up to me."
After WWII, Hauptman says he went on to have a successful career in the flooring business.
"I've had some pretty bad days, but if you really add up all the bad days that I've had, there aren't that many," Hauptman said. "I've had a really good life."