Jesse Adolph Beazley Jr., 92, a World War II veteran from Jessamine County who survived D-Day and was later recognized by the French government for his contribution to the country's liberation, died Friday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington.
Beazley was a 20-year-old private in the Army who heard General George S. Patton speak in Great Britain before the Normandy invasion.
He recalled in a Herald-Leader article that Patton told the troops to "go as far as you can" and then dig in when they hit the beaches "because the first wave will die anyway."
"That's the message he gave us," Beazley said, "and turned out to be right."
After his transport boat was blown up as it approached the shore, Beazley swam 600 yards through rough seas, barbed wire and the bodies of fellow soldiers. He credited his upbringing on the Kentucky River for that.
"I learned to swim before I could walk," he said in a 2005 article.
After arriving on the beach, he said he found a foxhole and spent the night wondering what would happen next.
"I thought maybe we had failed and they went off and left me and the Germans would come down and kill me at any minute," he said. "I never spent such a night in life as that, not knowing what to do. But the next morning, I heard someone hollering in English, 'Get up! Get out!' and it was the sergeant, and he led us on in."
Beazley went on to the Battle of the Bulge, through Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany, all the way to Czechoslovakia.
After his time in the service, he returned to Nicholasville, but there was no parade to greet him upon his return.
"They dropped him off in the middle of the night on Main Street there in Nicholasville," said his daughter-in-law Jeanie Beazley. "He didn't even know where his mom lived."
Beazley worked as a furniture maker and as a supervisor at Lexington Economy Wholesale Drugs.
He was awarded the French government's highest military recognition, the Legion of Honor, in 2009.
He enjoyed sharing his story with schoolchildren and adults, and his recollections are preserved in audio recordings at the University of Kentucky and the Library of Congress, his daughter-in-law said.
Jeannie Beazley said that when speaking to groups, he always credited God for the victory on D-Day, and he always mentioned that if leaders knew what war was really like, they would try harder for peace.
She said she met Jesse Beazley at church and they got along so well together, he set her up to go out with his son James.
James and Jeannie have been married 26 years, and for the past 13, Jesse Beazley lived with them.
"He'd tell everybody, 'I hand-picked her'" to be his caregiver in his later years, Jeannie Beazley joked. "He was something special."
Beazley was the widower of Dorothy Beazley and is survived by six children. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Hager & Cundiff Funeral Home in Nicholasville. Beazley will be buried with full military honors at Camp Nelson National Cemetery.