Clarence Joseph "C.J." Adams, 89, club manager at Quince Orchard Swim and Tennis Club who led a squadron of bombers during World War II, died of pneumonia July 25 at Mariner Health of Bethesda.
Mr. Adams, a Rockville resident since 1985, was known for telling jokes to patrons and strangers at the club -- and any other place he found himself.
"He would go up to strangers to tell a joke or whoever we sat down next to at museums or concerts," said his son, A. Lee Adams of Bethesda.
"I'd be embarrassed for a moment until I realized he led 400 or 500 men in World War II."
He was born in Morgan City, La., and graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Tex. He was a gas station manager in Texas before World War II, when he joined the Army Air Forces. At age 27, he was dubbed the "old man" by his troops. He learned to fly and rose from an instructor to an operations officer to a squadron commander.
Mr. Adams flew B-17 bombers over Europe, serving as the lead pilot and squadron commander on 29 combat missions in 22 months, including several over chemical plants and oil refineries.
He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his flights against targets in Brest, France, and Berlin during adverse weather and under heavy antiaircraft fire.
He also had five awards of the Air Medal, and the French government awarded him its Croix de Guerre.
After the war, he sold insurance and real estate in Texas and Ohio before moving to Rockville to help a son run the swim and tennis club.
Never one to wear his wartime medals, he felt the real heroes of World War II were those who were killed in action.
Mr. Adams attended the dedication of the National World War II Memorial last year, but he couldn't sit through it, his son Lee said, because all he could think about was the loss of his men.
His hardest duty in the military was writing letters home to family members of those who had died.
He was a member of Rockville United Methodist Church and the Lions Club and volunteered for Meals on Wheels.
In addition to son A. Lee Adams, survivors include his wife of 63 years, Sarah P. Adams of Rockville; three other children, Clarence J. Adams II of Houston, Paul P. Adams of Alexandria and John A. Adams of Rockville; and six grandchildren.