a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A lucky soldier

My father, James R. Beveridge of Charleroi, Pa., left, in Danville, Ill., with an unidentified pal shortly before embarking for Europe with the U.S. Army during World War II.

Part 1: Preparing for a battle dad would never see

By Scott Beveridge

The Queen Elizabeth had the ability to outrun German U-boats during World War II, moving at a speed that qualified it as a troopship for American soldiers destined to reshape the globe.

As the largest luxury cruise liner in the world at the time, it had been painted battleship gray and fitted with magnetic mine detecting devices to double as a warship before it docked March 7, 1940, in New York on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

The ocean liner and its sister ship, the Queen Mary, were capable of carrying fifteen thousand men, nearly an entire division, to wartime service. And my father would eventually become one of them.

Four years later, James R. Beveridge and his fellow troops assigned to the U.S. Army’s 550th Quartermaster Corps, stepped aboard what had by then become a beat up vessel. They were scared, nervous and unsure about where the war would take them when the she shoved off at 5 a.m. December 16, 1944, and arrived in breakneck speed six days later at Glasgow, Scotland.

“That ship was so fast it could make it over in three or four days but, it had to zigzag because it wasn’t in a convey,” dad said, more than sixty years later in the summer of 2005.

“That way a submarine couldn’t hit it, get a bead on it,” he recalled when he was 82 years old.

It was his first call to the war zone after having spent the previous two years in training at Army bases in the United States.

He decided to enlist October 7, 1942, with his best friend, Joe Yoney. They were naive 22-year-old men from Charleroi, Pa., a bustling retail boomtown that lived off the backs of steelworkers about twenty-five miles south of Pittsburgh, Pa.

They briefly considered joining the U.S. Merchant Marines as their hometown on the western banks of the Monongahela River was being stripped of its draft-age men. Beveridge and Yoney had already received their draft notices; service in the war was inevitable.

“I might as well get it over with,” dad said, taking his thoughts back to the first time he visited a recruiter’s office in nearby Donora.

But his mother, Madge, disapproved of his joining the Marines over her fears that he might be killed aboard a boat struck by a torpedo, images she had seen on Newsreels. American moviegoers were kept abreast of the defense effort by those short black-and-white news films that were produced by the major motion picture companies.

“I told Yoney: ‘My mom’s going to have a stroke. Let’s go down to Donora and enlist in the Army,’” dad said. “I didn’t go home and tell my mom anything. I just went and joined.”

He was soon assigned to basic training at Camp Lee, Va., where he earned a paltry fifty dollars a month as a buck private.

It was uncanny, he said, because his father, Robert, had been stationed at the same base for training in World War I.

But dad longed to be home, especially that day in 1944 when he shipped out for active duty in another continent that, to him, was as far away as a Jupiter.

(Click here to read Part II: Stirring the memories of war.)

(This oral history was written in 2005 to fulfill my graduate studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. It is being edited and published here as a series.)


Amanda Blu said...

What a great slice of history. Thanks for sharing, Scooter. When are we having the TWAB Kegger?

MJ said...

This looks to be a really interesting series, Scott. It puts your dad's war photos that you posted a couple years ago into context.