Joseph R. Beyrle
Sergeant, United States Army
15 December 2004:
Joe Beyrle, 81, a World War II paratrooper whose gung-ho zest for leaping out of planes earned him the nickname "Jumpin' Joe" and who was the only man to fight both for the United States and the Soviet Union, died December 12 of congestive heart failure in a hotel room in Toccoa, Ga., the small town where he had trained. He was in Toccoa to speak to school and veterans groups and to promote a book about his life.
A member of the 101st Airborne's Screaming Eagles, Mr. Beyrle was 20 when he parachuted into Normandy for the first time; he was wearing bandoliers packed with gold for the French Resistance.
On June 5, 1944, the night before D-Day, he again parachuted behind enemy lines into Nazi-occupied France, landing on the roof of a church in St. Come-du-Mont. Under fire, he bounced down the steep pitch of the roof into a cemetery and set out on his mission, the demolition of two bridges behind Utah Beach. Three days later, he crawled over a hedgerow and stumbled into a Nazi machine gun nest.
His captors marched Mr. Beyrle and his fellow American POWs toward a prisoner staging area, while Allied planes strafed the scraggly procession. Mr. Beyrle was hit by shrapnel but managed to escape for a few hours before running into another German unit. His dog tags were taken and ended up around the neck of a German soldier who was killed in France while wearing an American uniform. In early September 1944, Mr. Beyrle's parents in Muskegon, Michigan, received the dreaded telegram about their son's "death."
Mr. Beyrle, meanwhile, was being hauled by train from one prison camp to another, where he endured interrogations, frequent beatings and near starvation. He finally managed to escape, after several attempts, in January 1945. He encountered a Russian tank unit led by a tough commander; he knew her only as "the major."
The Russian troops were hungry, desperate and barely under control. He recalled how the Russians seized the elderly German couple who owned the farm where he had been hiding, shot them and fed them to their pigs. A few days later, the troops ate the pigs.
Mr. Beyrle, looking for a way back to U.S. troops, fought alongside the unit for nearly a month, riding as a machine gunner on the back of a Sherman tank. After taking part in the destruction of his old POW camp, he was seriously wounded in an attack by German dive bombers and transported to a field hospital in what is now Poland.
He eventually made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow but was placed under house arrest when he could not convince anyone that he actually was Joe Beyrle. Fingerprints finally established his identity.
On Sept. 14, 1946, he returned to Muskegon and got married in the church where his premature funeral Mass had been held two years earlier.
Joseph Robert Beyrle was born in Muskegon. He graduated from Saint Joseph High School in Muskegon, where he was voted best informed, most obvious temper, class shark and best dressed.
In June 1942, he declined a baseball scholarship to the University of Notre Dame and volunteered for what was then called the parachute infantry. Training near Toccoa at the foot of a Georgia mountain called Currahee, a Cherokee word meaning "stand alone," he and his buddies adopted "Currahee" as the regimental battle cry.
After the war, Mr. Beyrle returned to Muskegon, where he worked as a supervisor for the Brunswick Corp., maker of bowling balls and pool tables. He retired in 1981.
In retirement, he was active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and other veterans groups.
In a 1994 ceremony at the White House, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin presented Mr. Beyrle with four medals for his service with the Red Army. "It was the proudest moment of his life," said his son John Beyrle, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
In a 1999 interview with Ron Dzwonkowski, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, Mr. Beyrle said he occasionally talked to schoolchildren about his World War II experiences.
"Some of them aren't even sure what war I'm talking about," he said. "They really don't understand that I felt it was my duty to volunteer, and what went on and what it was like. I tell them that if it wasn't for what we did, they would all be marching the goose step today, and the first question is, 'What's the goose step?' "
In 2002, author and military historian Thomas Taylor told Mr. Beyrle's story in "The Simple Sounds of Freedom: The True Story of the Only Soldier to Fight for Both America and the Soviet Union in World War II" (Random House).
This year, the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, Lt. Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov, presented a rifle to Mr. Beyrle in a ceremony at a Moscow Victory Day celebration.
In addition to his wife of 58 years, JoAnne
Beyrle of Muskegon, and his son John, survivors include two children, Julie
Schugars of Muskegon and Joe Beyrle II of Howell, Mich.; a sister; seven
grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
Dignitaries, media at Arlington for Beyrle funeral
Friday, April 22, 2005
By Susan Harrison Wolffis
Courtesy of the CHRONICLE
Joseph R. Beyrle was to be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery with standard military honors, but his funeral plans were anything but standard.
The burial ceremony for Beyrle, the famed Muskegon World War II paratrooper who died December 12, 2004, at the age of 81, was planned for late this morning.
Among those scheduled to deliver eulogies and words of comfort were U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan; Yuri Ushakov, the Russian ambassador to the United States; and Thomas H. Taylor, the author who captured Beyrle's extraordinary World War II record in a 2002 biography.
Film crews from NBC News and the Russian equivalent of CNN were to be in attendance, as well as reporters from The Washington Post, Newhouse News Service and other national news media.
"It is amazing to see all the attention people are paying him," said his son, John Beyrle, who is deputy ambassador to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
"Late in life, he became a national figure."
Joe Beyrle gained international acclaim after his biography, "The Simple Sounds of Freedom: The True Story of the Only Soldier to Fight for Both America and the Soviet Union in World War II," was published by Random House in 2002.
Beyrle was one of the first U.S. Army 101st Airborne paratroopers to land in Normandy on what is called "D-Night," in advance of the early morning "D-Day" invasion on June 6, 1944. He was captured by the Germans soon after he parachuted into France and herded through seven prisoner-of-war camps for the next year of his life.
A month after he was taken prisoner, Beyrle's parents received word that he was a POW. A few weeks after that, they were notified he was killed in action.
On Sept. 17, 1944, his parents -- who had three sons in World War II -- held a funeral Mass for him at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Muskegon.
His remains, or what were presumed to be his remains, were buried at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, in Plot A, Row 2, Grave No. 48 in U.S. Cemetery No. 2.
It is most likely that a German soldier who stole Beyrle's dog tags is buried in that grave.
In later years, when Beyrle traveled to Normandy for reunions with the 101st Airborne Division Association, he always visited the grave and paid honor to the thousands of Americans buried there.
On the day of his "funeral" in 1944, Beyrle was being transferred from Stalag IV-B to Stalag III-C in Germany.
The story only gets more amazing. After several escapes, only to be captured, Beyrle managed to escape from a POW in 1945. He hooked up with a Russian tank unit until he could get back to U.S. troops.
He is reported to be the only U.S. soldier to fight with both the U.S. and Russian troops in World War II, a distinction that earned him medals from then-President Bill Clinton and then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin on the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
In May 2004, he was invited to Moscow by the Russian government to attend the Victory March parade marking the 59th anniversary of Hitler's defeat, the one American soldier among 15,000 Russian troops. He was considered a special guest, a fellow comrade.
"To see him as other people saw him is very gratifying," John Beyrle said of his father. "I mean, he was my dad ... but because of what's happened these last few years, all the media attention, I feel like I've really gotten to know him through other people."
Even his death is the stuff of legend. Joe Beyrle died in Toccoa, Georgia, a small mountain area where he first trained as a paratrooper. He was in the area in December, invited to speak to more than 1,100 students about the war -- and to tell them his story that both started and ended in Toccoa.
"I would say the 101st (Airborne) was a defining part of his life," his wife, JoAnne Beyrle of Muskegon, said. "The things that happened to him defined who he became."
Joe Beyrle's family were to be at Arlington, many of them taking part in the ceremony: his wife; daughter Julie Schugars and her husband, Jack, of Muskegon; son Joseph Beyrle II and his wife, Kathy, of Howell; and son John Beyrle and his wife, Jocelyn Green, of Moscow; as well as several grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
"It's his third funeral, he'd better get it right," JoAnne Beyrle said, adding that they have to laugh at times like these or they'd only cry.
"If you have time (today)," JoAnne Beyrle asked
the people in his hometown, "think of Joe and wish him well; wish him a
happy journey, please."
Arlington is home for heroes like Joe
You've got to be something special to make the top of the front page after you've already passed on, but in the case of Muskegon's Joe Beyrle, it's no mystery. The famed World War II veteran was one of this area's greatest heroes.
Now Beyrle has gone to his final resting place, Arlington National Cemetery, where his remains have been interred amid some of America's bravest, courageous and most honored fighting men and women.
Beyrle's story has received national attention thanks to the efforts of Joe's co-writer, Thomas H. Taylor, of his biography, "The Simple Sounds of Freedom: The True Story of the Only Soldier to Fight for Both America and the Soviet Union in World War II." Like Beyrle's, Taylor's is a famous name in the storied 101st Airborne Division. Taylor's father, the late General Maxwell Taylor, was the division's first commanding officer.
Beyrle, as a member of the "Screaming Eagles," often parachuted behind enemy lines on intelligence missions prior to the massive D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. Things went terribly wrong for Beyrle during that last jump, however. He became separated from his unit and was captured by the Nazis, who brutalized him after his escapes were foiled.
Ultimately, Beyrle got away and ended up with the Red Army -- and then fought his way back to the American lines alongside the Soviets.
Beyrle could easily have remained a noncombatant after escaping the Nazis, but he voluntarily joined up with the only forces heading back to friendly territory. And he had a personal debt or two he was determined to pay back with bullets to Adolf Hitler and Co.
It was such an amazing story of courage and survival that it wasn't believed at first by the debriefing officers. Later, it earned Beyrle accolades and medals from virtually every nation that fought in the conflict.
Joe Beyrle loved Muskegon and always considered this his home. But the truth is, Joe is truly "home" now.
Courtesy of the Muskegon Chronicle
7 June 2006
Sixty-two years to the day after Joe Beyrle parachuted into Normandy, World War II history buffs staged a gentle invasion of the old soldier's cozy Norton Shores home on Tuesday.
By 9 a.m., a crowd of almost 60 was waiting for the start of an estate sale that included much of Beyrle's military memorabilia.
A hero by any measure, Beyrle's memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., just over a year ago was attended by politicians, generals and diplomats.
Many of the local amateur historians who arrived early for Tuesday's sale were just as reverential, said Beyrle family friend Penny Loeb.
One early arrival purchased numerous books from Beyrle's collection. "He said he was 'a student of World War II'," Loeb said. "We carried many books upstairs for him. He was delighted."
Tuesday was the first day of a two-day sale and marked the 62nd anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
"Jumpin Joe" Beyrle landed in France hours before dawn on D-Day with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.
It marked the third time Beyrle had parachuted into France during the war. Twice before D-Day, he had carried gold to the French resistance on clandestine missions.
Hours after the invasion began, Beyrle was captured. Although Beyrle's family was told he had been killed, his war, and life, were far from over.
After being tortured by the Nazis, Beyrle escaped and fought along with a Russian tank unit until he was badly wounded.
He escaped and made his way back to the U.S. at the end of the war.
After the war, Beyrle worked for Brunswick Bowling and Billiards Co. and served with veterans organizations. His forte was cutting red tape to help his fellow vets get benefits.
"He was the most generous person and he loved
his 101st," Loeb said. "He would do anything for the veterans."
All the truly significant historical items Beyrle accumulated over his long life were donated by his family to the Muskegon County Museum, Loeb said.
"His uniform, the boots he wore in training in Georgia and all the wonderful Russian pieces went to the museum," Loeb said.
Beyrle's widow, JoAnne, recently moved to a smaller residence and didn't have space for all the possessions the couple had accumulated.
But Beyrle was, by all accounts, an inveterate collector, so much remained on site Tuesday for those hoping to own a piece of history.
"He kept everything," said Farr Hinton, co-owner of Edmonds & Engemans, the firm handling the estate sale. "There were quite a few medals, patches, badges and lots and lots of books signed by generals."
"Our brother-in-law is a collector, but he's an operating room nurse at Hackley Hospital, so he couldn't come this morning," said Marcia Aslakson.
But by noon Tuesday, it seemed most of the signed books and medals already had been purchased, Aslakson said.
The sale was scheduled to continue until 5