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World War 2: Jumpin' Joe Beyrle Fought on Both the Western and Eastern Fronts

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

Beyrle Before D-Day

WW2: Sgt. Joseph Beyrle (August 25, 1923 - December 12, 2004) in 1943. Image provided by Joseph Beyrle Jr.

WW2: Sgt. Joseph Beyrle (August 25, 1923 - December 12, 2004) in 1943. Image provided by Joseph Beyrle Jr.

“Jumpin' Joe” Beyrle

Joseph Beyrle (BYE-early), nicknamed “Jumpin' Joe” because of his enthusiasm for jumping out of airplanes, was a US paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. In the early hours of June 6, 1944, Staff Sergeant Beyrle and 13,000 other paratroopers jumped from their transport aircraft over the dark Normandy countryside. They were the Allied spearhead of Operation Overlord; it was their job to disrupt German communications and prevent the enemy from counterattacking the beachheads in force. Seven months later, Beyrle found himself fighting with a Soviet tank battalion pushing toward Berlin, the only American soldier known to have fought with both the US Army and the Soviet Army in World War II.

Paratroopers In Training

WW2: U.S. Army paratroopers in a Douglas C-47 (1942)

WW2: U.S. Army paratroopers in a Douglas C-47 (1942)

Joe Beyrle: US Paratrooper

June 6 wasn't Joe Beyrle's first foray into Normandy. Twice, in April and May, the twenty-year-old had parachuted into France to deliver gold coins to the French Resistance and both times managed to secretly fly back to England. The drop on D-Day, however, was not as smooth. As the planes flew over Normandy, the sky lit up with anti-aircraft fire. The paratroopers stood, waiting for the green jump light to switch to red. When Joe had first enlisted in the Airborne, he had to admit he was severely color blind. The recruiter asked him if he'd ever been ticketed for going through a red light. When Joe said he had not, he was told not to worry about it-- a dozen guys would push him out when the light turned green. The plane dropped lower to escape the flak and tracer fire and finally the green light came on. Beyrle and his fellow paratroopers jumped out at only 400 feet.

He landed on the roof of the village church in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, managed to slide down and found himself all alone in the cemetery. Joe's specialty was demolitions and while he looked for his fellow paratroopers, he found and blew up the village's power station. Over the next few days, still alone, he committed other acts of sabotage until he was finally captured by the Germans.

“Killed In Action”

Beyrle was taken to German headquarters and interrogated. At one point, his dog tags were taken and, days later, US soldiers discovered an unrecognizable body in the countryside with Joe's tags. In September, his parents in Muskegon, Michigan received the telegram informing them “Joseph R. Beyrle [had been] killed in action on June 10, 1944”. The family had a tombstone made, held a funeral and grieved for their young son. Months would pass before Joe, with the help of the Red Cross, was able to get a postcard to his parents that he was alive and a prisoner of war. Joe Beyrle was virtually back from the dead.

Joseph Beyrle After His Capture

WW2: ID photo of POW Sgt Joseph Beyrle taken at Stalag XII-A POW Camp July 1944

WW2: ID photo of POW Sgt Joseph Beyrle taken at Stalag XII-A POW Camp July 1944

Prisoner of War

But he was still a prisoner and would remain so for more than seven months. During that time, in which he would eventually be shuttled further and further east to various detainment camps, Joe and his fellow prisoners were shelled by American artillery. Though wounded by friendly shrapnel, Beyrle managed to escape in the confusion before being recaptured after a few hours. Later, while being transferred in enclosed boxcars, the prisoners were unknowingly strafed by US warplanes, but Joe was not hurt in that attack. At Stalag XXIIA, he was officially processed as a POW and allowed to write his family.

In late September 1944, he finally arrived at Stalag IIIC near Alt Drewitz, Germany (now Drzewice, Poland) 50 miles east of Berlin. There, while trying to steal some potatoes, Joe was shot in the arm.

Guest of the Gestapo

Later, Beyrle and two others managed to escape from the prison camp and boarded a train they thought would take them east through Poland. Unfortunately, the train took them west into Berlin and they ended up as guests of the Gestapo, the dreaded Nazi secret police. For nearly ten days they were interrogated as spies, kicked, whipped, hung by their arms twisted behind them and clubbed with rifle butts. Finally German Army officers showed up and demanded the prisoners be returned to their jurisdiction as they were POWs. The three men were taken back to Stalag IIIC and put in solitary confinement.

Beyrle's POW ID

WW2: POW ID card for Joe Beyrle (Stalag XII-A, July 1944)

WW2: POW ID card for Joe Beyrle (Stalag XII-A, July 1944)


By mid-January 1945, news had reached the prisoners that the Soviet Army was on German soil. Beyrle and his two buddies, Brewer and Quinn, once again attempted an escape. As other prisoners staged a diversionary fight, the three climbed into barrels in the back of a wagon. They managed to get past the prison gates, but the wagon hit a large stone on a downhill turn and it tipped over, spilling them from their barrels. Brewer and Quinn were shot and killed by the guards, but Beyrle managed to get away. He continued to evade capture and headed east toward the growing sounds of battle.

Aleksandra Samusenko

WW2: Russian Tank commander Aleksandra Samusenko, 1943 (age 20 or 21).

WW2: Russian Tank commander Aleksandra Samusenko, 1943 (age 20 or 21).

Finding the Red Army

Three days after his escape, Beyrle, hiding in a hayloft, finally heard soldiers speaking Russian. He carefully approached them with his hands up, shouting “Americanski tovarish”-- “American comrade”, while holding up a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Suspicious, the soldiers took him to their tank commander.

He was astonished to find himself face to face with a beautiful young woman who turned out to be Guards Captain Aleksandra Samusenko, the highest ranking woman in the 1st Tank Guards Army and captain of the 1st Battalion of the 1st Guards Tank Brigade. It was obvious her men respected her. Earlier in the war she had earned the Order of the Red Star when her T-34 had gone up against three Tiger tanks and destroyed them all. After telling her his story and asking to join them in their drive on Berlin, she agreed. He was given a submachine gun and rode on the back of one of the tanks (the battalion was equipped with American-made Shermans).

Russian Sherman Tanks

WW2: American M4A2 Sherman tanks in Soviet service advancing in Czechoslovakia (April 1945)

WW2: American M4A2 Sherman tanks in Soviet service advancing in Czechoslovakia (April 1945)

Joe Beyrle: Soviet Tank Infantryman

During the following days, Beyrle proved his worth, using his demolition skills to clear trees blocking their progress. After several battles, his unit participated in liberating Stalag IIIC-- the very POW camp he had escaped from. After storming the camp and freeing the prisoners, he was called upon to blow open the commandant's large safe. The Russians took the rubles, watches and rings while Joe was allowed to keep the dollars and pounds. He also located his POW record and photo.

During the next two weeks, the fighting was brutal as the Germans fought ferociously for their fatherland. In early February, German Stuka dive bombers attacked their tank column and Beyrle, riding on the back of a tank, was wounded and taken to a Soviet military hospital. While recovering from his wounds, the hospital was visited by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, the most famous general in the Soviet Army. Astounded at finding the wounded American, Zhukov listened to his story through an interpreter and promised to help him get back home.

Aleksandra Samusenko's Death

Sadly the twenty-two-year-old Guards Captain Aleksandra Samusenko died a month after Joe was wounded. She was apparently crushed by a tank in the dark during the East Pomeranian Offensive about 40 miles from Berlin in the village of Zulzefirz on March 3, 1945.

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The Long Journey Home

Several days later he found himself at the US embassy in Moscow trying to convince US Army officers who he was. He had no dog tags and, as far as the records showed, Joe Beyrle had been killed in action on June 10, 1944. He was placed under armed guard until his fingerprints checked out with army records.

From Moscow, Joe was sent to Odessa on the Black Sea and from there to Instanbul, Turkey, then to Port Said, Egypt, to Naples, Italy and then, finally, to the United States, where, on April 21, 1945, Joe Beyrle was reunited with his family in Muskegon, Michigan.

Joseph Beyrle's Son, Ambassador to Russia

Joseph Beyrle's son Ambassador John Beyrle (right) and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, after presenting his credentials (September 18, 2008)

Joseph Beyrle's son Ambassador John Beyrle (right) and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, after presenting his credentials (September 18, 2008)

After the War

Joe settled down, got married, had a daughter and two sons and worked for Brunswick Corporation for 28 years before retiring. On June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he was invited to the White House where he received medals from both US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Joe and his wife traveled to Russia several times and in 2004 he received an AK-47 commemorative assault rifle from General Mikhail Kalashnikov, the weapon's famous designer. Later that year, on December 12, 2004, Joe Beyrle died of heart failure at the age of 81, considered a hero in both the US and Russia. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

It is not a coincidence that one of Joe's sons, John Beyrle, went on to become US Ambassador to Russia from 2008 to 2012. He cited his father's exploits as examples of the cooperation possible between the US and Russia. In 2010, during discussions of such past cooperation, Ambassador Beyrle said his father “all his life was extremely grateful to the Russians, who saved him”.

For more information about Joe Beyrle's amazing story, Thomas A. Taylor has written a book called The Simple Sounds of Freedom.

Joe Beyrle Remembered (2004)

© 2015 David Hunt


David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 20, 2015:

Thank you, Alan. A compliment indeed. Yes, Russian women participated in many non-combat and combat roles. Some of my favorites were the Night Witches who flew bombing missions in flimsy canvas-covered biplanes. While American air crews rotated out after 25 missions, some of these women flew more than a thousand.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 20, 2015:

Hello David, me again. The Russians had lots of female military personnel in the war area, unlike Britain and the US who employed them in HQ, intelligence or industrial areas. The Germans' only female service personnel were army nurses - or spies maybe.

This is a first rate piece of journalism, btw.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on September 26, 2015:

Flourish, thank you for reading, commenting and sharing. I'm certain I'll have to buy a larger hat now!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 26, 2015:

What a terrific hub! You have such an engaging style and are certainly the expert. I have G+ed it and emailed it to others who will enjoy it.

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on September 04, 2015:

That is his field of psychology and other than stopping by, you would need to make an appointment some time in advance. Local hospitals could be quicker, perhaps. The clinic is now well established and his expertise well enough respected that there is a waiting time except for emergencies.

Good luck with your researching. There might be records somewhere of the attacking force, losses, and burials Japan, Philippines, and US. Quite a treasure hunt. My cousin survived the war with some real adventures, went on to participate as an aeronautical engineer in the DynaSoar project which led to the Space Shuttle.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on September 04, 2015:

Thanks for the comment and tip, Perspycacious. It's the first time I've heard of a Japanese woman pilot (as you said, "if true"). Bears looking into. I've never been to the Winslow Clinic (and to be truthful, I'm not in the habit of just dropping by medical clinics) but would your son specialize in Neuropsychology? If I ever hit my head, I'll remember that. Or would I? Glad you enjoyed the article.

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on September 04, 2015:

This is a great story. Lucky Joe was wounded so many times that it is remarkable he had a body left with which to celebrate the end of WWII! Your Hubs are a reminder of what we were supposed to learn from the period of history you have chosen to focus on.

If you are ever going past the Winslow Clinic in Cedar Rapids, stop by and say "Hi" to the doctor there. He is my son Bruce.

I was told by my Cousin Lt. Col. Melvin McKenzie who was Officer of the Day when the Japanese first attacked Clark Field in the Philippines that a Japanese plane that was shot down had a female Japanese pilot! If true, that should be quite a story, and no less interesting than your comment about the Russian tank captain with the Red Star Medal. I doubt that female pilots at the early stage of the war were common, and think it is more likely that she was the daughter of some senior military officer, or was masquerading as a man. There's a hot topic for you, and there is more to Melvins story, too, including his son's military service after graduating from the Air Force Academy.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on August 26, 2015:

Glad you enjoyed it, Gary and Eric. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 26, 2015:

Very cool article. How fascinating. Wow what a hero. Thank you

Gary Malmberg from Concon, Chile on August 26, 2015:

A fascinating true story that keeps on giving. Two thumbs yup.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on August 24, 2015:

Larry, thanks for the compliment. Sometimes I have dry spells when nothing stirs the urge, but when I find a subject that keeps me researching for more and more, like Joe here, I know I've got a Hub.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on August 24, 2015:

Hi, Edward. I kind of backed into this when I read a blurb about Aleksandra Samusenko. I couldn't find much about her but there was this American soldier... and so I found Joe Beyrle... and then to discover that Joe's son became ambassador to Russia, well, a Hub was born. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 24, 2015:

You do such a wonderful job with these historical accounts and always find thoroughly engaging subject matter.

A harrowing tale!

Ed Palumbo from Tualatin, OR on August 24, 2015:

Fascinating! I'm glad Sgt. Beyrle survived the war to be repatriated. From this account, I'd say he was a helluvva warrior. Thank you for this interesting Hub!

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