SAINTE C�ME DU MONT, France (Army News Service, June 6, 2014) --
With the tricolor of French, American and British flags draped in
the windows, parades of vintage military vehicles and ceremonies in
villages across the region, Normandy is abuzz with celebration on
the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Away from much of the
commotion, in the shadow of the picturesque Saint-C�me-et-Saint-Damien
church here, family members and fellow veterans joined in a quiet
remembrance in honor of Joseph "Jumpin' Joe" Beyrle, a World War II
veteran of the liberation of northern France.
John was joined in the wreath-laying ceremony by his family and
D-Day veterans who had served alongside his father in Normandy, June
James "Pee Wee" Martin, at center, and Donald R. Burgett attend a
memorial ceremony for Joseph "Jumpin' Joe" Beyrle, June 5, 2014, in
Saint-Côme-Du-Mont, France. Martin and Burgett served in the
same unit as Beyrle on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and honored their fellow
506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division comrade,
on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Normandy. (Photo by
USAF Senior Airman Alex Riedel)
"It's now almost exactly 70 years ago that a young man,
my father, landed here, on this very spot, to being his
campaign for the liberation of Europe," said John. "I'm
honored to see you all here today, paying homage to his
Alongside thousands of
heroic stories during the days of the invasion of Normandy,
Beyrle's story is considered to be unique, John said, in
that he was the only known G.I. to have served in both the
U.S. and Soviet Army against Hitler, during World War II.
Born in Muskegon, Mich., Beyrle enlisted the Army after
his high-school graduation in 1942. With war looming on the
American horizon, Beyrle chose to join the service as a
paratrooper. During training, he gained his nickname "Jumpin'
"A lot of the guys were afraid they would
sprain an ankle or break a shin bone before a mission," John
said. "As they got closer to the jump, they would actually
give him five dollars to show up and make their jump in
their name. So he made many jumps under assumed names during
training -- then somebody came up with the name 'Jumpin'
Beyrle was assigned to the 506th Parachute
Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, and
headed for Europe -- where even before the launch of the
invasion, the radio communications and demolitions expert
participated in two covert operations delivering gold to the
On D-day, Beyrle's C-47 Skytrain
quickly came under attack, forcing him and his team to
abandon the aircraft at low altitude before arriving at the
targeted drop zone.
"After landing on the church
grounds here, (my father) carried out several operations,
but got separated from his company," his son recounted. "He
then was captured by the Germans and held in a house near
the church here."
After falling into enemy hands
after destroying a power station, Beyrle began an odyssey as
a prisoner of war.
THREE TIMES THE CHARM
Refusing to be kept from the fight, Beyrle tried to escape
from enemy captivity, but was recaptured twice. After
several transfers from one prison camp to another, and
severe maltreatment by Nazi secret police, Beyrle was
transferred to a camp in the German-occupied East
Here he saw another chance to escape and
seek refuge with the Soviet Army troops who were fighting
German forces nearby.
"In January 1945, he escaped
from what is now Poland," John said. "He went east and
linked up with a Russian tank unit that went toward Berlin.
He fought with them for 10 days, until he was wounded."
Beyrle later was repatriated through the U.S. embassy in
Moscow -- just in time to celebrate the end of the war in
Europe on V-E Day, in Chicago.
"My father first came
back here 20 years after D-Day," said John, who himself
served as a U.S. ambassador to Russia. "He really wanted to
see, in the daytime, where he had landed in the middle of
the night. Here he met with veterans of his unit from which
he was separated and never reunited. After that, he came
back every five years on the anniversary of D-Day, until his
death in 2004.
RETURN TO NORMANDY
veterans in attendance were James "Pee Wee" Martin and
Donald R. Burgett, who both served in the 506th Parachute
Infantry Regiment, alongside Beyrle.
"I didn't know
Joe very well, but I sure know he could shoot and was one
hell of a guy," Burgett said with a smile. "It's good for us
and everybody, to remember the sacrifices that were made by
men like him in liberating France."
At age 81, Joseph
Beyrle died of heart failure in 2004, in Toccoa, Ga., the
location that the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment trained
at, before heading to Europe.
"(Normandy), for us, is
like a second home, because of the experience my dad had in
the war -- but also because of the friendships we made."
John said. "We, as family, and the veterans themselves come
here, because it is kind of a sacred place for them -- and
by extension, all of us. My daughter is here on of her first
visit, and so we hope to come here for many years (and
generations) to come."
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alex Riedel
Army News Service
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