a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A lucky soldier

A stack of yellowed letters, parts of a U.S. Army uniform and a Nazi armband are among the items my father, James R. Beveridge, saved from his participation in World War II.

Part II: Stirring the memories of war

By Scott Beveridge

The pay earned by a U.S. Army private during World War II was not attractive to my dad when he enlisted in the military and earned that rank after leaving a steel job in Monessen.

Industrial work was picking up in America in the early 1940s because President Franklin D. Roosevelt had promised England he would supply its defense with steel and other war supplies in place of troops to fend off German invasion.

Dad said he would have preferred to continue working at Pages Steel and Wire Corp, a Pennsylvania mill that wove fence from steel billets produced at the blast furnaces at the nearby Pittsburgh Steel Co. The mills paid quite bit more money than the $50 a month he would earn each month in the military after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into the war.

By 1943, dad valued a good-paying job, having been raised during the Great Depression and suffered the difficulties of moving from one town to the next while his father, Robert, found work in any number of temporary jobs.

His family was always met an unwelcome outsider to a new town at a time when one in four men were jobless. His father was seen as being there to steal a job opportunity from a local man. As a result, dad had to quickly learn how to do battle with the other boys his age and older.

Dad's family finally arrived in Charleroi, Pa. when was in the ninth grade, and he immediately felt at home there after attending as many as 20 public schools in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Charleroi, though, was a money town with two long downtown streets lined with expensive shops and department stores. The town was nicknamed the “Magic City” because it developed so quickly in the 1890s, and would later break records for having some of the highest retail sales in Pennsylvania. Located upwind from a string of dirty mills along the Monongahela River, its air was clean and sidewalks were filled to their brink with only the best-dressed people from throughout the region.

Even though work was picking up and his father had found work as a welder at a Monessen steel mill, dad's parents were quick to consider packing up the family once more for a move to another town. Dad said he threatened to drop out of high school if they moved, so they stayed.

His father would live long enough to see him graduate in 1940 from Charleroi High School before dying, unexpectedly, from a stroke. His mother, Madge, was about to become all alone in her world after the war called away her two sons.

Dad's only sibling, Thomas, was three years his junior and he joined the Army, too, in 1944 after lying about his age.

Their mother received regular allotments from them, money that was withdrawn from their military salaries and matched by the government because she was without a husband and dependent on their incomes to survive. She also took jobs as a housemaid to get by and regularly kept in touch with her sons via a steady stream of letters they exchanged and would keep for the remainder of their lives.

These old memories surfaced again in May 2005 when dad retrieved a white gift box he used to store his tokens from the war to tell this story.

His collection contained a red, white, and black cotton Nazi armband, something he rarely pulled out because of what it represented, and because it was against U.S. law to bring home such items seized from the enemy.

He also kept his olive green and moth-worn Army hat, routine military paperwork, and a number of letters his friends and relatives mailed his mother from the war.

The bulk of those letters were written by dad to reassure his mother that he was fit, “in the pink,” and safe, words he purposely selected to keep her free from worry.

Yet, some of them spoke to these soldiers longing for such luxuries as a warm bed, home-cooked meals or dates with a hometown gal as they dealt with the insanities of war.

Their words also carried with them profound war experiences, details that had been stored away for decades before dad retrieved the mementos from his dusty closet.

My dad, James R. Beveridge, left, and his brother, Thomas, with their mother, Madge, in 1940 after they arrived in Charleroi, Pa. With the Great Depression ending, World War II would soon be calling the brothers to the U.S. Army.

(Click here to return to Part 1: Preparing for a battle dad would never see)

(Click here to move on to Part III: Dad's friends and relatives weren't so lucky)

(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.)

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