a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, November 27, 2009

A lucky soldier

Part IV: Dad's secret World War II letter

By Scott Beveridge

My father in declining health gave me a stack of letters he saved from World War II with a warning there might be something embarrassing in them.

James R. Beveridge was approaching 82 that summer of 2005, and I responded by saying he didn’t need to worry about being ashamed at his age over anything the yellowed letters might contain.

So we went on talking for hours about his service in the U.S. Army, as I took notes without ever mentioning the one startling letter written by his mother holding a secret dad carried with him to his grave in March 2007.

His mother, Madge, had intercepted a bill he received in the mail in January 1943 from a physician in Monongahela, Pa., for delivering a baby he fathered to a married woman living in that small city south of Pittsburgh.

Madge Beveridge was writing her son, a private stationed in Danville, Ill., to proudly announce that she had solved this problem.

Mrs. Beveridge, who became my grandmother 13 years later, was not regarded for having been graceful, compassionate or genuinely kind to others.

She stated in the letter that he could not have fathered the woman’s full-term baby delivered July 15, 1942, because they hadn’t known each other long enough.

“So I told this Dr. she wanted a ‘goat’ and thought to pick on a 19 year old boy, who had lost his Dad, but she forgot the boy had a mother who knew her son was worthy of a good woman,” she stated in the letter.

Mrs. Beveridge further stated she visited the physician and told him to forward the bill to the mother’s father. “So Jimmy, I had never (really) been quite happy until I found out for sure that the Beveridge blood wasn’t in that baby.”

She was humored at having solved such a serious dilemma. Meanwhile, the date she indicated her son became intimate with the woman also made it quite possible he could have fathered the child.

The subject of the letter quickly turned to dad’s mother shopping for new shoes and making plans to visit his military base. The problem was forever behind them; so she thought.

Never knowing the full truth about the child would trouble my father for the remainder of his life, according to my mother – the former June Hart - who didn’t meet or marry him until well after the war ended.

His indiscretions before they married were not a concern to mom, she said, yet he never told her about his receiving the bill for the baby. She had been told two versions about the pregnancy from people they knew in Charleroi in the 1950s. One story involved the baby – a son - dying following a premature birth while the other had him being put up for adoption.

The woman’s parents had visited the Beveridge home in Charleroi, Pa., while she was pregnant, demanding a shotgun wedding. The pregnant girlfriend had left her husband in 1941, taken back her maiden name and was living with her parents when she met my father, according to the stories he later told my mother.

“He said he told his mother he probably should marry (the woman),” mom said last week. His mother asked her son if he wanted to get married. “He said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry about it then, I’ll take care of everything,’” said my mother, who turned 80 this summer.

Like me, mom has been expressing interest in finding out the truth now that I have made this letter known to our family.

In some ways I believe dad was trying to relieve some of his guilt by giving me those letters as age was weakening his heart and eyesight. He surely knew then, that as a curious reporter I would feel compelled to dig further into the story.

But, in 2005, I was under a tight deadline to write dad’s oral history of the World War II era for an assignment to finish graduate school.

We turned the clock back to February 1945 when he arrived to a war torn Normandy, France, as Allied forces were advancing on Germany.

(Note: At this time, we have decided not to reveal the identity of the woman whose physician billed my father for fathering her child. The obituary of her brother indicates she died prior to 1986. However, little else exists about her on ancestry.com or other Internet searches. By revealing her name, it might cause embarrassment to any children she might have had after my father left for the war, never to hear from her again.)

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

(Click here to move on to Part V: On the edges of combat)

(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.)


Lori said...

How your fathers heart must have ached for the truth. I was a young single woman when I had my first child. The father refused to acknowledge his own flesh. Our son(27) married last month. He has missed out on knowing a wonderful person and additionally his wonderful wife. I hope someday he gets curious. Thanks for sharing.

Susanna said...

It is unfortunate that so many children were lost to family they will never have. The shadow of illegitimacy and insecurity of adoptive parents burned too many bridges. I am one of those children of this era and I so wish to have the opportunity to know the family of my heritage. I will always hold most dear my adoptive family, but i am sad for all of us, parents and children alike, who feared reprisal, as your father did. Thank you for assuring him that all was well between you, as I'm sure it must have been difficult for him.