“PFC Richard S. Beyer 44321847, Sir.”

PFC Richard S. Beyer

As told by Cliff Carpenter, October 5, 2012.

This is an oral history about Rich Beyer as a combat soldier in World War II, as told by fellow soldier and life-long friend, Cliff Carpenter. Cliff was once a New York radio actor whose most famous role was Terry in “Terry and the Pirates.” He is a great storyteller, and although now age 98, he still has vivid memories of PFC “Slim.” This is a true story.

The setting is somewhere in Germany in 1944:

The first time I saw Slim, we were, by chance, assigned to the same package (group) in the army – Combat Unit 406, Company A. We were replacements for 70 American soldiers that had been killed by the Germans, “Krauts,” as they were surrendering.

This soldier (Rich Beyer) presented himself to the company officer wearing netting over his helmet, which was hanging down like a women’s veil (the netting was a fabric that goes over artillery as camouflage – probably stolen). His uniform was dirty, he wore a civilian shirt under his jacket, and his boots were laced in only every 3rd grommet. He was definitely OUT OF UNIFORM – normally a punishable offense! He stood next to me, looking slack jawed. When the officer asked for his rank and serial number, this odd soldier took three long loping steps forward, “PFC Richard S. Beyer 44321847, Sir.” (To attest to the accuracy of Cliff’s memory, Rich was in the 406th Infantry Regiment, but his serial number was somewhat different.)

I was intrigued by this strange young man and I thought he was undoubtedly an illiterate hillbilly. I decided, since I was older and more experienced, that I was going to look out for him because he seemed to have many handicaps. He stood about 6 feet 4 inches and was very skinny, so I started calling him, Slim. I stayed with him and we occupied the same foxhole. I would ask him something and he would mutter some reply that I could not really hear or understand.

As our weapons were first being assigned, the company commander, Captain Dexter, asked, “Will someone volunteer to carry the BAR?” (Browning Automatic Rifle). Every rifle company had one or more of these very large and heavy automatic weapons. When assigned, a soldier would carry it for the remainder of his tour of duty. When Dexter asked the question, Slim spoke up, “Sure, I’ll take it.” I thought, “Oh God, does he know what he’s gotten himself into?” To my surprise, he picked up the BAR with little effort and carried it with ease. He was definitely not a weakling! Also, I later learned that he had a fascination with all kinds of weapons and he may have known just what to expect of the BAR.

A few days later, we were standing side by side in the slit trench (latrine/toilet). Slim said to me, “Look up there, pointing to the sky, do you see three stars in a line?” I said, “Yes.” He continued, “Look beyond, do you see another star that is twinkling.” I replied in the affirmative, wondering where this was going. Then Slim said, “Very good, you have just qualified for the Army of Xerxes!” I thought, how did he know that! Clearly he was not illiterate! (Xerxes the Great (519 BC-465 BC), was the fourth king of the Achaemenid Empire, in Persia).

Whenever a Field Officer would visit our command post, Captain Dexter, would say, “Someone find Slim and ask him to get lost!” Slim’s appearance and his way of speaking was always odd, yet those in his command soon became aware that Slim was a special case and they tolerated his eccentricities. No one else was as strong or as willing to take on tough tasks, and he was a great shot with the BAR.

Fast-forward a year or more, to 1945 somewhere in France:

One day a highly polished jeep drove up to the command post. A man got out wearing a polished helmet and highly polished boots; his uniform was spotless and looked like it had never been slept in. He said, “Captain Dexter, I have a message for you,” he read the following message, “You will send PFC Richard S. Beyer 44321847 to my headquarters by the fastest possible method.” It was signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe! Dexter was very started, but said to another soldier, “Get Slim here immediately!” Slim was quickly found and put into the jeep by an MP and they drove off at great speed. You wonder where he was going? It so happened that Rich’s mother, Clara Beyer, was in Paris for a conference. (Clara was the Assistant to Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, by Franklin D. Roosevelt.) Clara happened to meet General Eisenhower at some function in Paris and she, never being slow to express her ideas, said to the General, “I would like very much to see my son while I am in France.” Eisenhower honored her request and promptly sent for “Slim.” Slim was indeed a special case!

Slim became the best friend I ever had. I admired him immensely – he was so imaginative, so original, so skilled and intelligent. He was always his own person!

Cliff Carpenter
Transcribed by Dorothy Scholz-Beyer
October 5, 2012

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