Bio: Beyer, Harold (Honored for military service
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
Surnames: Beyer, Meier, Winters, Dybas
----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 4/01/2015
Beyer, Harold (Honored for military service - 6 April 2015)
Beyer to Be Honored For Military Service
By Todd Schmidt
This photo of Harold Beyer was taken in 1945 in Nuremberg, Germany. The 344th Ordnance Unit was stationed in that area in 1945 when the European War ended in WWII. (Contributed Photo)
Harold Beyer, 92, of Neillsville, will be honored for his military service at the monthly Neillsville American Legion gathering scheduled Monday, April 6. A potluck meal will be enjoyed at 6 p.m., with Beyer’s award presentation and meeting to follow.
Beyer graduated from Neillsville High School in 1940. He then moved to Marshfield to work. He married Helen Meier of the Town of Levis in June 1942 and was drafted into the U. S. Army six months later.
Beyer took six weeks of basic training at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in Little Rock, AK. He was then assigned to the 344th Depot Ordnance Co. at Camp Pickett, VA.
After a furlough in December 1943, the company made preparations to be shipped out overseas. His wife Helen and their son Bud stayed behind, living with her parents for the duration of WWII.
In January 1944, out of Camp Kilmer, NJ, the 344th boarded the Mauretania, a huge British ocean liner used to transport thousands of troops. She bristled with machine guns and heavy artillery.
Beyer and his fellow soldiers were designated to assist the regular gun crew in shifts of four hours on, eight hours off each day. The gun pit was arc shaped and fastened to the outside shell of the ship, so it was over the water and close to the front of the ship.
‘As you looked down, you could see the bow as it plowed through the water, much like a farmer’s plow turning over the soil,’ Beyer recalled. ‘Quite often we would see fairly large fish following along, keeping us company. It was a beautiful sight, especially on a moonlit night.’
In early February 1944, the ship reached port in Liverpool, England. The troops were stationed at Leek in Staffordshire and Northwick, Cheshire, England, before crossing the English Channel. The unit was not involved in the D Day invasion, but landed soon afterward at Utah Beach in Normandy, France.
Beyer produces an excerpt of ‘War as I knew It’ written by General George S. Patton, which chronicled the American Army’s race across France.
‘After the capture of Avranches July 31, 1944, bulldozers and scrapers were clearing the roads of the German wreckage left in the wake of the great sweep of Allied bombers and strafers.’ Patton wrote, ‘The main roads were almost bumper to bumper with vehicles.
‘At one bridge leading into Avranches, they ran into heavy German bombing. The company arrived at its new area so early it had to clear the area of snipers.
‘Each town was an awful monument to hell itself. The stench of unburied bodies lying in the unmerciful summer sun was overpowering at time, as the convoy rolled slowly on through the red clay dust, which clung savagely to the skin and blinded the eyes.
‘The Germans, counterattacking at Mortain in an attempt to drive a wedge between the First and Third Armies, not only bombed and strafed the bridge at Avranches but plastered the neighborhood. The Luftwaffe came over and destroyed about a thousand tons of ammunition.’
The 344th Depot Company had nine men killed and 18 wounded, including Beyer.
In the wee hours of Aug. 7, 1944, Beyer earned his Purple Heart. He was picked up by a medic and sent back to a tent hospital. Staff included a captured German medic who worked right along with the Americans.
Beyer was discharged from the hospital a short time later and was transported back to his unit.
In the meantime, a telegram was delivered to Helen stating her husband was seriously wounded in action in France. No other information forthcoming.
‘So what is the definition of a war hero?’ Beyer wondered. ‘The wife is the hero, who is at home with a baby. She has no idea about the condition of her husband.’
The battle area featured cold and snowy winter weather. Allied troops were surrounded, but prevailed in the Battle of the Bulge, which was a fierce and bitter fight.
In the early morning of Jan. 1, 1945, German planes appeared directly over the 344th’s position.
‘One plane flew so low we could clearly see the pilot and the Nazi insignia on the side of the fuselage,’ Beyer said. ‘The whole area erupted into an inferno, with anti-aircraft artillery, machine guns and dog fights in the air between U.S. and German planes. The German target was to destroy a landing strip and any aircraft on the ground. Their plan failed. Not a single Nazi plane made it to their target, nor did a single Nazi plane return to base. Every one of them was shot down.’
‘When The European War ended the allies were still at war with Japan. The Army was split up to occupy the area, transfer to Japan or head home for discharge.
Beyer hooked up for a short time with his brother, Walter, who was stationed with the U. S. Army in Heidelberg, Germany. Another brother, Bob, served in the U. S. Navy in the Pacific Theater during WWII.
The unit was in charge of guarding a number of German prisoners of war.
‘They were the remnants of the German Army,’ Beyer said. ‘They were coming home to a beaten country. Each one was miserable, hungry and maybe sick. None of them knew the welfare of family and home. There was no victory march for them. The war was over and so was the Nazi Party.’
Beyer was designated for home and discharge, so he was transferred to a different unit going home. They were transported via railroad boxcar through France to a port on the Mediterranean Sea. There they boarded the Seacat vessel and were routed through the Straits of Gibraltar.
They ran into a terrific storm that tossed the Seacat around like a leaf going through the river rapids.
‘It was hanging onto your hammock or get thrown out,’ Beyer said. ‘The storm lasted three or four days.’
They landed in New York Nov. 4, 1945. The soldiers were greeted with a huge reception including cheers, banners, flags and live bands.
Five days later, Beyer stood at the train station platform outside the gate at Ft. Sheridan, IL, with an honorable discharge, a train ticket and $300 severance pay. He was headed home to his family.
The 344th Ordnance Co. was inactivated Oct. 6, 1950. The company held its first reunion in September 1980 in Joplin, MO. They held reunions for 21 consecutive years.
Harold and Helen had three children, Bud (Betty) of Madison, Becky (David) Winters of Lake Mills, and Lanny, who passed away in 2006. His wife Linda Dybas lives in Galesburg, IL.
Helen passed away Feb. 14, 2009. Harold now counts among his blessings 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Beyer spent over 38 years working with the Nelson Muffler Corp. Over seven of those years were at the Neillsville plant, with the other 31 years at other locations, including the home office in Stoughton.
Beyer and another local veteran, Bill Erpenbach, were privileged to attend a Freedom Honor Flight out of La Crosse May 14, 2011. They and other appreciative veterans visited various memorial and monuments in Washington, D.C.
Beyer has been a member of the American Legion for 64 years. He joined the Mineral Point Legion in 1951 and continued his membership when he moved back to Neillsville in 1980. He is a longtime member of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Neillsville.
He is concerned about the dire and perilous times facing the country today, including the influence of terrorists.
‘We should have played partners more with our allies instead of taking on the whole situation ourselves,’ Beyer noted. ‘Government officials can’t seem to work together. It seems like there is so much division. Back in my service time, you could really use the term ‘United States of America.’ Beyer is very proud of his service to his country.
‘We had to have WWII, to stop what was going on,’ Beyer said. ‘I feel pretty humble about the part I played, which didn’t amount to much. I just followed orders. Like a lot of other things, I probably wouldn’t want to go through it again.’
Harold Beyer, 92, of Neillsville will be honored for his service in the U. S. Ary Monday, April 6, 2015, during a special program at the Neillsville American Legion Club. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)
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