“I was born and spent the first part of my life in a log barn in Coffeeville. I left school at 17 to help with the farming and the plowing. When I got my invitation to the Army, I was glad because I’d be getting away from that durn mule.” The invitation that 93-year-old Thomas Beverly speaks of is his draft notice. While he was plowing fields in Clarke County, a war was being fought a world away. On August 13, 1943, just four months into his eighteenth year, Beverly was “invited” to serve his country.
As Beverly traveled to Anniston for his physical and continued on to Atlanta for his GI clothing, war raged in Europe. From Atlanta, Beverly and hundreds of others boarded a troop train and their destination was unknown. “They kept it a secret because we didn’t want the Germans to know what America was up to. We got off the train in Cape Cod for basic training.” Meanwhile, the Allied Invasion of Sicily was successful as American troops overtook the city of Messina. From basic training, Beverly went to Louisiana to train to drive a half-track, an armored personnel carrier. He and his unit returned to Maryland and anxiously awaited their Atlantic crossing.
“When we got to the dock, there was a ship there so big that you couldn’t hardly see from one end of it to the other. It was the Queen Elizabeth. There was 16,000 boys that loaded that ship to go to Europe. The ship docked in Scotland. That’s where we unloaded.” After their sea voyage, the young men were loaded onto trains again and sent into England for the next 4 months. In February 1945, Beverly and his company crossed the English Channel into Le Havre, France. “We headed east to catch up with the war and to keep pushing the German army way back deep into Germany.” Beverly experienced battle action on the banks of the Rhine River as the Allies made a final push toward Berlin. Beverly recalls crossing the Rhine on a pontoon boat as the Allies attacked Germany from the east and the Soviet Union pressured the Third Reich from the west.
The war ends
“The Germans would overtake a town and then they would go through the streets and take the able-bodied men and they would send the people to concentration camps where awful things happened. Things that are just hard to believe because they are so awful.” Beverly recalled the Dachau concentration camp, which was the first of Hitler’s infamous camps and the atrocities that occurred there. “People visit that place now, just to see it.” As he said those words, he shook his head. Seventy-three years later and he still recalls the brutalities of war. “The Germans were a pitiful sight. Starving, torn up clothes.”
The Germans blew up bridges and culverts to keep the Allies from advancing. The Allies continued their push into Switzerland as German soldiers began throwing down their weapons. The war ended officially on September 2, 1945. “We were somewhere down in Germany when they said the war was over. I can’t tell you where we were because I don’t know. We never really knew where we were. We stayed on the move. We didn’t have time to even take baths. Every morning we got up, got us a little bite to eat, got in the half-track and we’d convoy.” Beverly and his company were then stationed in the German city of Munich, which was well-preserved. Beverly referred to his time in Munich as “easy duty” patrolling the streets of Munich.
Beverly returned to Jackson in April, 1946. He was greeted by his wife, Annie Jewel Pugh Beverly, also a native of Coffeeville. The couple’s only child, Thomas “Tommy” Ervin Beverly was born the following year. The Beverlys celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary on September 13.
“An old soldier”
A quote that Beverly loves is a statement that General Douglas MacArthur voiced in his farewell speech to Congress in 1951, “Old soldiers never die; they simply fade away.” Beverly celebrated his 93rd birthday in April and has experienced much since receiving his “invitation” from the United States Government, but he is far from fading away. Beverly still drives himself around Jackson and interacts with his friends daily at the Jackson Nutrition Center. He also goes to Jackson Healthcare Facility daily to visit with his sweetheart, Jewel. Throughout his working years, he was a mechanic, a pipe fitter, an insurance agent and most memorably a soldier, a member of the greatest generation.
“I’d love to see one article in The South Alabamian where you ask for the World War II veterans to contact you and share their stories. We don’t need to lose these stories. There’s not many of us left. You think you can make that happen?” His question resonates and YES, The South Alabamian would love to hear stories from all of our veterans from any and every conflict or war.
“You know today is voting day?”, he asks as he heads toward the downtown fire station. “Everybody ought to go vote.” He grips his cane and sets out to perform his civic responsibility. I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about as he carefully read and studied the ballot. I watched him from a distance, just wondering if he was thinking, “You know, election day is possible because people like me have historically been willing to sacrifice and protect this country?” I doubt he was thinking that because while he is a proud American and honorable veteran, he is also extremely humble and simply thankful for his country. He may not have had those thoughts, but this reporter did.
Thank you, Mr. Beverly, not only for your service, but for your example and commitment to citizenship.
Any veterans willing to share their stories may contact Shannon at The South Alabamian, 251-246-4494 or email@example.com.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.