a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A lucky soldier

Part III: Dad's friends and relatives weren't so lucky

By Scott Beveridge

The letters my father sent home from World War II were nowhere near as troubling at first blush as those he would read from friends and relatives who also were serving their country in battle.

Those men were less inhibited to express the ugly side of a war that dad surely experienced, too, but would never discuss even until the day he died in 2007.

Shortly before he left Charleroi, Pa., for the Europe, his friend who was serving in the U.S. Marines encouraged him in one letter to join anything but that branch of the military.

“Stay the hell out of the Marines ....,” the friend, Frank “Gula” Galanzosky, penned from boot camp. “There are three guys in our platoon who have to go out and pick up one thousand cigarette butts and string them on a needle and thread,” Galanzosky stated in the letter written in August 1942. “One guy dropped a rifle and had to take four to bed with him that night.”

Dad would end up faring better in the Army.

Standing a slim six feet, two inches tall, he had a handsome grin and thick, curly black hair that made him popular with women on the dance floor.

He felt a cold shiver and a rumble in his stomach, however, as he stepped onto the deck of the Queen Elizabeth en route to Europe as World War II was in full gear.

To lighten the mood and bond with his unit, he and the seven other soldiers in his squad decided to shave their heads and grow beards as the ship crossed the Pacific Ocean.

“I felt silly,” he said, remembering how surprised he was to see a red mustache above his upper lip.

He had never seen something as beautiful as that ocean liner even though it had been worn and damaged by the steady stream of soldiers it was smuggling to the war. Years after the war ended, he remembered seeing a story in a newspaper that stated England required the United States to pay for the damage its troops caused to the ship.

“There was a crap game on every set of stairs,” he said. “You could see how the guys ruined it ... carved their initials on the expensive woodwork.”

When he arrived in Hale, England, two days before Christmas, he would soon learn U.S. troops were surrounded at Bastogne as the Battle of the Bulge was being fought in Belgium. The following day, a German U-boat sank a U.S. supply ship, the Leopoldville, in the English Channel, killing 819 Americans.

He was worried and scared, knowing his unit could easily be separated at any time and reassigned to battle.

“You never knew if your unit was going to be busted up, made a replacement,” he said. “Those guys were the first to get killed because you ended up in a unit that you didn’t have training for. Those guys didn’t stay alive.”

The news dad would soon be receiving about his only brother, as well as his best friend and cousin, was far more frightening.

Thomas L. Beveridge, who was a radioman in the U.S. Army Air Forces, would become missing in action for five days after his airplane crashed in Burma in July 1944. Tom Beveridge another crewman survived the crash with nothing more to eat than an ant-covered chocolate bar.

They used a machete to cut their way out of a jungle to a stream and followed it downstream to a U.S. military base. He suffered a brief period of amnesia before bumping into a relative who jarred his memory.

Meanwhile, dad’s best friend from home, Joe Yoney, was wounded in friendly fire by a bullet that traveled through a letter in his pocket. Dad had sent that letter to Joe, and would eventually receive a copy of it for proof.

Dad said war movies from that era wrongly led some in the States to believe there were many soldiers who enjoyed the war and liked to kill.

“I didn’t meet any of those kind of guys,” he said. “My friends who got shot, they patched them up and sent them back.

Yoney later told dad he bawled like a baby when he was shot across the stomach in Sicily.

“They shot him up with morphine to shut him up,” dad said.

Then in February 1945 dad received news in a letter from his mother that his school chum, Dale Covin, had been killed by Japanese fighters in a parachute jump over the Philippine Islands.

Covin was either shot to death while in the air or tangled in a tree.

“He was dead before he hit the ground,” dad said. “That happened a lot.”

Dad’s cousin, Dale Faux of Morgantown, W. Va., also was witness to tragedy while serving in the Army Air Forces in India.

“As for Jim, he has had a lot of good breaks and I hope he continues to get them,” Faux wrote in December 1944 in a letter to dad’s mother, Madge Beveridge.

Faux relayed to his aunt that he watched from a barren hillside while the remains of eight of his fellow soldiers whom he had befriended like brothers were being buried in makeshift graves.

“And if there was a trace of moisture in my eyes, I’m not ashamed to admit it,” he wrote.

As Faux penned the letter, he and his comrades were collecting money for an Indian boy whose stomach was swollen from malnutrition, hoping the boy would use it to buy a bit of rice to keep him alive. “What would we ever suffer that would even compare to that?” Faux expressed.

Another letter eventually turned up in my dad’s war mementos that concerned me, even to this day.

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

(Click here to move on to Part IV: Dad's secret World War II letter)

(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.)


MJ said...

The replacement part of your story reminds me of Band of Brothers when the vets say those kids were always the first to get killed.

And nice tease for Part 4.

Jen said...

I want to thank you for posting this article I really enjoyed it, and Joe Yoney was my grandfather


Scott Beveridge said...

Joe Yoney was quite a character. My dad loved him.