More than seven decades after Amador Barbosa and thousands of other soldiers evacuated their sinking ships during the Normandy invasion, the Independence man still can’t imagine how he survived.
The 96-year-old World War II veteran said he managed to swim ashore while carrying more than 30 pounds of TNT strapped to his back. He his fellow soldiers made the trek as enemy gunfire peppered the surrounding waters. Those who remained had just survived history’s largest seaborne invasion.
"We were making our way to the beach because we'd been hit by shells," he said, recalling the historic day in France in 1944.
“We needed to get off before our ships sank,” he said, remembering how he and others swam carrying supplies to forces on land.
“I got knocked down (by explosives), but I got up and just kept going,” he said. But the bombardment continued as enemy snipers waited in trees and shot and killed many as they walked off the beach, still toting their water-logged ammunition.
The D-Day drama is only one in a string of battles Barbosa fought that stretched from northern France to the Rhineland to Central Europe. Barbosa and others in his company were charged with finding and relocating land mines. His mission consistently put him in the direct path of danger.
“I was always on the front line,” he said. “I saw it (injury and death) every day. I didn’t think nothing of it.”
In another incident, Barbosa watched as a convoy of vehicles sped by, transporting much-needed supplies to nearby troops. Soldiers suddenly jumped from one truck after realizing the trailer it pulled was on fire and could result in a large explosion of the ammunition inside. Barbosa and other specialists quickly moved the trailer to a field far from troops before it exploded.
When asked if he feared for his life, Barbosa explained it this way: “We didn’t have time to think,” he said. “We were just doing.”
He later won a medal for bravery displayed during that and several other war maneuvers.
Another time, Barbosa was stationed in a foxhole when a grenade exploded, sending him flying to the ground above. That incident, and others in which explosives hit nearby, caused hearing loss, his only war-time injury, but one from which he would suffer the rest of his life.
A sergeant asked Barbosa, a private, to stand in for him while he was away at officers’ training. Just before he left, the sergeant and three other men discovered a land mine and were trying to remove it when it exploded, killing all four men. That incident caused Barbosa to fear giving orders that could result in death.
“I told them, ‘I’ll do anything you tell me to,’” he said. But, “I let them give me the orders.”
At war’s end, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander, ordered that troops be marched through Hitler’s concentration camps, so soldiers would understand the meaning behind the war. Barbosa said he will always remember the horror of the prisoners’ remains. “You can stand a lot of things when you have to,” he explained.
Barbosa grew up in Kansas City’s north end, also called “Little Italy.” He was the only child of Maria and Francisco, Mexican immigrants who owned and operated a restaurant in what is now the City Market area. Barbosa graduated from Manual High School in 1940 and received a one-year deferment from service while he worked for the war effort. He worked at Kansas City factory that made components for casings for .50-caliber machine guns. But, when he was 21, the work ran out and Barbosa was drafted, beginning his three-year tour of duty.
Although he can't be certain why he survived, Barbosa said he has a theory.
"The only thing I can think of is my mother saying prayers," he said.
His cousin, Lupe Garcia, said she remembers how Barbosa's mother worried throughout her son's deployment. "My aunt was constantly crying and crying for him," she said.
Through prayer, Maria promised the Virgin Mary that, if her son’s life were spared, she would return to Mexico to pray before a statue of the blessed mother that stood in a church there. After his discharge, Maria made the trek to Mexico and Amador married and worked as a tool-and-die maker while helping raise his two children. He eventually would live to see six grandchildren. He attributes all of this to his mother’s faith.
"I never got hit," he said, and "she prayed all the time."