The 4th of July is a great time to remember our country’s freedoms and the people who have secured them. This profile of a WWII soldier seems appropriate. Mr. Beitler has been the oldest vet I’ve ever interviewed. When we talked in 2012, he was articulate and kind. It was a joy meeting him. He has approved this story for accuracy.
In 1940 the United States, sensing the approach of war in Europe, instituted a peace time draft. All men between the ages of 21-35 were required to register to fight in what many felt was an impending war.
Richard Beitler was born in Berne in 1917. After graduating from Berne High School in 1935, he worked six years at Dunbar Furniture as an upholsterer.
When the first draft in Adams County occurred in January 1941, 15 men were picked. Even though he had passed a physical examination and been assigned a number, Beitler was not among them. “It was a lottery,” said Beitler. “When your number was picked, you were drafted. If your number was not selected, you didn’t have to leave.”
In March 1941 more young men from Adams County were drafted. Beitler’s number was still not chosen. The hammer fell, so to speak, a month later as Beitler’s number was finally chosen among the 68 numbers picked for the next draft round.
Beitler and the other draftees were inducted into the United States Army at an armory in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Afterward, they were sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis for training. Beitler was assigned to Company G 152nd Infantry 2nd Battalion out of Newcastle, Indiana.
In September 1941 Beitler completed basic training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The following year he participated in amphibian training in Florida and maneuvers in western Louisiana. In 1943 he received instruction at Camp Livingston in north Louisiana.
When Beitler finally shipped out from the United States on January 1, 1944, it was on a former cruise ship, the SS Lurline. “We went in a 30-ship convoy through the Panama Canal,” he said. Beitler’s ship left the convoy and for two weeks zigzagged alone through the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. “The zigzags were to confuse enemy subs,” he added.
Beitler’s company spent five months in Hawaii training for duty. The troops then headed toward Oro Bay in the South Pacific on a Liberty Ship. “It was a 21-day trip to New Guinea, but I was never seasick,” said Beitler.
The American soldiers spent four months in Orlo Bay. Due to extreme heat, the soldiers trained by day and loaded and unloaded ships at night.
In late 1944 Beitler and other soldiers sailed to Leyte Island in the Philippines. Six officers, including one captain and five lieutenants, led the company.
All was quiet until the third night. When the Japanese began firing, part of Beitler’s company went to high ground to fight. Beitler and others stayed in the valley. The firing continued all night, killing several Americans.
The troops remained on Leyte Island until January 1945. Then they moved to the Bataan mountains where the soldiers were involved in the Battle of Zig Zag Pass. Severe fighting continued for two weeks. Beitler prayed often and carried a New Testament Bible, things he had been taught to do while growing up and attending church.
Once a Japanese bullet struck Beitler’s helmet, creating a hole and grazing his scalp. Beitler received a Purple Heart for being struck by enemy fire. Beitler did not get to keep his helmet. “It would have been a good souvenir,” he said.
By the time the Japanese retreated, only Beitler’s captain and one lieutenant remained. Two had been killed and two were injured. The remaining lieutenant suffered from shell-shock (what we call today post-traumatic stress syndrome). The captain, desperate for leaders, commissioned four platoon sergeants as second lieutenants. As a result, Beitler was promoted to platoon sergeant.
In the hills along the western side of the Philippines American troops again engaged in heavy conflict with loss of lives. They then moved to Clark Field, formerly a landing field for the U.S. Army which in January 1942 had been overrun by Japanese forces. The base was a busy center for Japanese aircraft until January 1945 when Allied forces reclaimed it after three months of fierce fighting.
They also saw action in the mountains northeast of Manila.
Beitler and other American troops geared up for what they believed would be the biggest invasion of the war – that of the Japanese mainland. To the relief of every American the invasion was cancelled following the surrender of the Japanese Emperor in Tokyo Harbor September 2, 1945.
After American forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the Japanese conceded and the war was finally over.
That did not mean every American soldier was immediately shipped back home. “We were discharged based on a point system,” said Beitler. “It included the number of years you had spent in service and number of battles you had fought.”
The number of points needed was 85. After four years in service, Beitler had earned that number of points. By the end of August, he had received his orders to be shipped home.
Beitler left the Philippines in September 1945. After sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, he traveled by train from California back to Camp Atterbury in southern Indiana. Beitler was officially discharged in October 1945.
By the end of the war, Beitler held the rank of Tech Sergeant. He was awarded the prestigious Purple Heart medal, as well as the Overseas, Good Conduct, and Asiatic Pacific medals. By the end of the war, Beitler’s four brothers had also been drafted into the military.
After returning home, Richard resumed his work as an upholsterer at Dunbar Furniture until 1985 when he retired.
Richard Beitler and his wife Margaret married in 1948. They became parents to two daughters, four sons, and later, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Margaret died in July 2011.
The Beitlers faithfully attended Cross Community Church in Berne throughout their marriage. For many years Beitler attended reunions for Company G until they were disbanded.
Today, Beitler lives in a retirement community in Berne. He still prays, teaches Sunday School and believes in God’s provision during his time as a soldier. “I had several close calls while overseas,” he said. “I prayed often and read my New Testament, especially verse eight of Psalm 121 which states, ‘The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.’
“I believe God saw me through those tough times,” he said.