Valor Friday

| May 13, 2022 | 12 Comments

Then-Technician Fourth Grade Joe Beyrle

Continuing my series of those who’ve served in more than one Army, I have an American today.

Joseph Beyrle was the third of seven kids born to German immigrant parents in 1923 Michigan. He enlisted into the US Army in June 1942 and volunteered for the nascent paratroopers. He turned down a baseball scholarship to Notre Dame to join the service.

Though the sales pitch for this new form of parachute infantry pretty much promised that well over 50% of volunteers were likely to die, the Army found men willing to do it. This was probably in no small part due to the $50/mo jump pay paratroops received. At the time a Grade 7 private (the lowest enlisted rank) made $50/mo in base salary.

Beyrle went to Camp Toccoa, Georgia for training. He was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), part of the 101st Airborne Division. Many will recognize this regiment as being the parent organization for “Easy” Company of Band of Brothers fame.

At Camp Toccoa, Beyrle earned the nickname “Jumpin’ Joe.” He had no fear of jumping out of a plane. When other men were worried about getting injured on a jump, they’d pay Beyrle $5 to do the jump in their place. A pretty good side hustle if you ask me.

After stateside training, the men of the 101st went to England for more training. While there, Beyrle participated in two operations into occupied France in the spring of 1944. His penchant for jumping led him to get the dangerous assignments. These missions delivered gold to the French Resistance. Each time he jumped into Fortress Europe with 250 pounds of gold strapped to his person.

By the first week of June 1944, the men of the 101st Airborne were anxiously awaiting their first taste of combat. Two years of training would culminate in them being some of the first large formations to touch French soil as part of Operation Overlord, what would be known as D-Day.

As the Douglas C-47 Skytrain troop carrier aircraft came over the most heavily defended coast in Europe they came under heavy attack. This included Beyrle’s aircraft, which was repeatedly hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire.

With their aircraft taking hits, the paratroops jumped early. Instead of landing just behind enemy lines at Utah Beach, Beyrle, having jumped from the suicidally low altitude of just 360ft, landed in the village of Saint-Côme-du-Mont. This was a couple miles northwest of Carentan and a few miles short of his intended drop zone.

Landing unscathed and on a church roof, Beyrle was separated from all the other paratroopers. Trained in demolition, Beyrle waged a one-man war on the enemy. He set about completing his mission of destroying two bridges behind Utah Beach. Next he began conducting sabotage operations on his own initiative and even blew up a power station. He survived (and fought) on his own for a few days before he was captured by the Germans after jumping a hedgerow and landing right in an enemy machine gun nest.

While being marched along with other American prisoners, Beyrle was hit by shrapnel from an Allied aircraft that strafed the scraggly column. He made his escape in the confusion but was captured again a few hours later.

Over the next several months, Beyrle would be sent to seven German prisoner of war (POW) camps. He escaped twice, hoping to make it to the Russian lines. The first time they were quickly recaptured. The second time, the escaped men boarded a train to Poland, or at least they thought it was to Poland. Turns out it was to Berlin, which as you can imagine did not bode well for their escape progress.

Beyrle was captured and handed over to the Gestapo by a German civilian. Beaten and tortured, the Gestapo were about to execute Beyrle for being a spy when the German military authorities stepped in and exerted authority over military prisoners.

Beyrle was now sent to Stalag III-C in western Poland. At the end of 1944, the German counterattack into the Argonne, what became known as the Battle of the Bulge, caused the prison to receive an influx of prisoners. Beyrle appears to have taken advantage of the chaos, because he escaped for a third time.

He made his escape in early January 1945 and traveled to Russian lines. With two other soldiers, as they cleared the tree line the Nazis opened fire, killing Beyrle’s compatriots. As they let the guard dogs loose, he hit a creek. He continued east until he hit Soviet lines.

When Beyrle found the Red Army, he approached with a pack of Lucky Strikes in his upward raised arms, shouting “Amerikansky tovarishch! (American comrade!).” He had landed among Soviet troops from the 1st Guards Tank Army.

Jumpin’ Joe was brought to the battalion commander, Guards Captain Aleksandra Samusenko. Samusenko was the only female tanker in the 1st Guards Tank Army. She’d lost her husband and family during the war and had served first as an infantry private in the Winter War with Finland.

Despite Beyrle not speaking Russian and Samusenko not speaking English the young American NCO persuaded the tanker heroine to allow him to fight alongside them. He would ride as a machine gunner on the back of a lend-lease Sherman tank.

For the next several days, Beyrle fought with the Soviet tankers as they continued their march towards Berlin. Along the journey, Beyrle’s new communist cohorts were the first Allied unit to reach his former prison camp, Stalag III-C. They liberated the POWs on 31 January 1945.

A week later a German dive bomber’s bomb took Beyrle out of the war. Severely wounded, he was evacuated to a Soviet hospital in Poland. While there, a high ranking officer came through. Intrigued by the only non-Soviet there, he learned Beyrle’s story through an interpreter. The man provided him with official documents so he could rejoin the American lines. That high ranking officer was none other than legendary Russian commander Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov.

After release from the hospital, Beyrle joined a convoy headed to Moscow. Once in the Soviet capital he reported to the US embassy. There he found that he had been reported killed in action 10 June 1944. They’d had a funeral service and posted his obituary at home in Muskegon.

The first time Beyrle had been captured, in the days after D-Day, the Germans had taken his dog tags. The tags were found around the neck of a German who was found wearing an American uniform. It’s assumed that because of his German surname they were being used by a spy.

In light of all he’d been through, Beyrle was mustered out of the Army at the rank of staff sergeant. He returned home to Michigan on 12 April 1945, just in time to celebrate VE Day a few weeks later in Chicago. I can only imagine what a party that was for the only American to have served with both the US and Soviet armies.

Among Beyrle’s awards and decorations were the Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Wings w/ 1 bronze star, a Bronze Star Medal, three Purple Hearts, and the French Croix de Guerre.

The Soviets also gave him awards for service and bravery. Beyrle received the Order of the Red Banner, a combat bravery decoration issued fewer than 600k times, and the Order of the Red Star. He was also given service and commemorative medals from the Soviet Union and, later on, the Russian Federation. The Russians also gave him the Medal of Zhukov. Named for the field marshal he met while in hospital, it’s awarded by the Russian Federation for “Bravery, selflessness and personal courage in fighting for the protection of the Motherland.”

After his service, Beyrle worked for the Brunswick Corporation, retiring after 28 years. In 1946 he married JoAnne Hollowell in the same church (with the same priest) where his funeral had been held two years previously.

On the 50th anniversary of D-Day Beyrle was invited to the White House where he was received in the Rose Garden and presented with medals by both President Clinton as well as Russian President Yeltsin. Beyrle even attended a Victory Day parade in Moscow, at which he was presented with an AK-47 rifle by the weapon’s designer Lt. Gen. Mikhail Kalashnikov.

On 12 December 2004 Beyrle was visiting Toccoa, Georgia, where he had started training as a paratrooper more than 60 years previous. It is fitting that this would be where he would die in his sleep, peacefully from heart failure at age 81.

The Beyrles had three children, a daughter Julie, and two sons. The eldest son, Joe Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps and served with the 101st Airborne Division in the Vietnam War. Their youngest, John, was the Ambassador to Russia from 2008 to 2012.

At Beyrle’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, where he received full military honors, he was eulogized by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan and Yuri Ushakov, the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Perhaps Jumpin’ Joe’s best quote is, “I wasn’t liberated. I escaped.”

Category: Army, Historical, POW, Valor, We Remember

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Buckeye Jim

What an incredible story!! Hollywood could not have done better.

KoB

Hardcore! A Warrior’s Warrior. And his last landing was a soft one. “…and the most you can hope for is to die in your sleep.” (ht 2 Kenny Rogers) Or from the last shot fired in the last war ever held. (ht 2 George Patton)

Great story, Mason. Maybe Hollywood should make this script into a Motion Picture. New career opportunity for ya, Mason. Turn your skilz into a paying gig.

Old tanker

Big brass ones and a life truly well lived. Thank God men like that lived.

Roh-Dog

Some men are the walking definition of bold. Thank you Staff Sergeant Beyrle.

5JC

If you can believe it there is actually a lot more to this story. If you literally want to hear him tell it, you can.

https://www.amazon.com/Simple-Sounds-Freedom-Soldier-America/dp/0375507868

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

Damn! He must have been using either an extra-large parachute, or two regular ‘chutes.
With all that weight (himself, ‘chte+gear, 250 lbs gold coin, PLUS His Big Brass Ones), I’m surprised he didn’t snap hips, knees, and/or ankles!

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

New nick-name, Beryle Bad-Ass

Graybeard

Wow.

Sparks

A true warrior and hero. Rest in peace.

Green Thumb

Great post.

Got a link?

KoB

 🇺🇸 

Last edited 3 days ago by KoB
Matthew W

WOW !!!!