By Danny Hudson
Grand nephew of John Beaty, Killed in Action
Co C, 272nd Infantry Regiment
Private First Class John Beaty, Jr., was killed in action
on April 6, 1945, while serving with the 69th Division, 272nd Infantry Regiment.
That is what the cold white marble cross standing in Margraten,
Netherlands, indicates to passersby. The
memories of the man have faded along with the gilded photograph that hangs in
our hall. The rakishly angled overseas cap, marauding smile, and icy
blue stare are our only reminders of the man who went to war.
As a child, that was my only connection to my
grandmother’s brother – the picture that hangs, regally framed, well above
all of the family servicemen’s photos. It
wasn’t until my own photo adorned that wall that I became curious about the
man and the soldier.
John Beaty was born and raised in rural west Tennessee.
As with most of his generation, poverty was a constant.
Life on the farm was a struggle, and strong backs were more important
than an education. Algebra
doesn’t grow corn. John had an
inquisitive and mechanical mind, despite his 8th-grade education.
His .22 rifle put many a Sunday meal on the table, and that’s how Uncle
Sam found him when war came a calling: strong of body, with a good “shooting
John entered service with the 735th MP (Military Police)
Battalion and received his initial training at Camp Atterbury, IN.
He left New York harbor December 29, 1943, bound for
Liverpool. John spent most of his
time garrisoning southern England. His
unit was slated to go to Normandy around Day 2, but it was decided that they
were better used in England given their knowledge of the area.
John’s letters and V-mails indicate that he was living the good life
– in the rear with the gear, English girls, and all the things that Sidonia,
TN, couldn’t offer. “Glad I’m
not in the infantry” was implied if not spoken.
With the Battle of the Bulge, the letters became concerned and wistful:
“Our boys are really catching it.” John
volunteered as an infantry replacement soon thereafter.
He was mustered into the 273rd Regiment and detached to the 272nd.
John was a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) gunner with the 1st Squad, 3rd
Platoon, Company C, under SSG Hrnchar. During
a German counterattack near Scheinstein, John was killed by 88 fire, along with
SSG Hrnchar and PFC Aseltine. A
well-written account of this action was authored by Nathan Fullmer, a surviving
squad member, and can be found in a 2003 edition of the 69th Bulletin:
“The next day, April 6, 1945, the 1st Battalion continued
its attack, clearing several small towns. Company
C attacked Scheinstein. Our Squad
moved through woods into a clearing and laid down small-arms fire into the woods
on the other side of the clearing. Our
two BARs got the German attention. Although
the History Of The 272 Infantry describes the enemy opposition as
sniper resistance, the sniper shooting at our Squad was using an 88 (mm gun).
After three rounds, we suffered three dead: Squad Leader S/Sgt
John Hrnchar, and both of our BAR men, Pfc Robert Aseltine and
Pfc John Beaty.”
During a recent visit home, I once again perused John’s effects, carefully tucked away in my grandmother’s cedar chest. I came upon a ring that I had overlooked. It was a simple copper ring bearing the Army crest, well worn with a patina. The ring had been cut from John’s hand at grave’s registration and was still burdened with the soil on which he fell. It struck me as odd. Infantrymen just don’t wear rings. They are uncomfortable, catch on things, and can cause noise at the wrong time. Why would he wear this ring, even until his death? Its value must have been great to him. It was. He shared the burden of a nation. He chose to relinquish a safe and easy duty in order to put himself in harm’s way to defend that nation better. His faith and allegiance were not born in elegant words or patriotic posturing. They were quietly borne on the hands that tilled the earth. So when you think of the fallen on VE day, please find a small place for this simple farmer.