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Interview with Carl Beck [7/11/2002]

Annette B. Fromm:

I'm with Mr. Carl Beck of the 501st Airborne, and let me find my first questions. Mr. Beck, would you give please your name, your birthdate and your current address?

Carl Beck:

I'm Carl Beck. I was born in Avondale, Missouri, in November 21, 1925, and I currently reside at 2648 Claremont Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30329.

Annette B. Fromm:

And what branch of service did you serve in? What was your rank and where did you serve?

Carl Beck:

Well, in the -- during my war time duties, I was with the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, and we served and took our basic training in Toccoa, Georgia, and beginning in December of 1942, I enlisted at age 17 -- I kind of lied a little bit and used my brother's age, his birthdate to get in the Army. And so we the formed the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment as a basic training unit in Toccoa in 1942 and went to jump school then in Fort Benning in April of 1943. After that, we went to Camp McCall, North Carolina, where we took our advanced training, went to Tennessee Maneuvers and then shipped overseas in January of 1944. Going to England at that time where we made about four practice parachute jumps.

Annette B. Fromm:

So you were in training for a whole year?

Carl Beck:

About, yeah, let's see. December -- that's correct, yeah, yeah. Sure was, a whole year going through basic Tennessee Maneuvers and so forth. So that then, yeah, we arrived in England in January of 1944.

Annette B. Fromm:

Why did you enlist?

Carl Beck:

Well, Annette, it's difficult to explain and I try to tell the kids to look at it in terms of the times. All of us were poor. Very dirt poor. But, everybody was poor. So, you know, there was no shame involved. I mean, we raised chicken and hogs and would get out of school to butcher hogs. We raised, we lived pretty much on the land. And there was an economic depression, that was unprecedented at that time. Until the war came along and of course, in my own opinion, Franklin Roosevelt was kind of getting us out of this depression. However, there was some talk, perhaps had it not been for World War II, we would have become a socialist nation. I don't know that, but in any case, looking at the times, and to get away from the farm. And you understand too, that at Pearl Harbor in 1941, I mean, there was a wave of patriotism over the nation that is just -- never been seen before. I mean, people were willing to die, of course, at Pearl Harbor we looked around for the, you know, the Air Force or the Air Corps -- and the Navy and stuff and you know, we didn't have one. It's like Will Rogers said something like, "We didn't have a machine gun, so we had to borrow one from the French." So, our readiness posture was just anemic, it was -- just wasn't there. So we had to start from scratch, but we were all willing to.

Annette B. Fromm:

Did you choose to go in the Airborne?

Carl Beck:

Oh, yeah.

Annette B. Fromm:

Why?

Carl Beck:

Well, I mean, we had a kid -- I worked with my dad and he had this factory job. And this young man came by with his shiny silver parachute wings and those boots and that uniform. I'm 17 years-old, man I'm gone. I tried to get into the Marine Corps when I was 16, but I was color blind. And, I couldn't get in anyway. So that kind of demonstrates -- it is not an outstanding thing. Everybody was pretty much the same way. So, I enlisted, and like I say borrowed my brother's age and went through the Airborne training and got to England. And, of course, that was just prior to Normandy. And, of course, I was --

Annette B. Fromm:

Was boot camp tough?

Carl Beck:

The purpose of an Airborne Basic Training was to wash as many people out as you could, those that were not going to make it. I mean, like a Saturday afternoon -- have an inspection Saturday morning and of course, everybody flunked the inspection. "Hey, let's run up Currahee." Currahee is a mountain that started at Camp Toccoa at the flagpole. It's three and a half miles up the mountain and three and a half miles back. Well, you'd run up Currahee and that was -- I mean, you just -- you'd never walked. You always ran and did push ups and Sunday afternoons, we would go down to an area where they had a mockup of a fuselage of an airplane about 40 feet in the air and static line -- or risers, hooked to a cable that, you know, went down this pulley-like thing. And, just for kicks, on Sunday, we'd go down there and jump out of that the darn thing. It was just a highly motivated group that survived. And, yes, to answer your question, I don't know what the percentage was, but we lost a good many people because they just couldn't stand the physical strain.

Annette B. Fromm:

So you ended up in England?

Carl Beck:

Yes, we got in England and quartered in various stables and so forth up in the horse country near Lambourne in England. It's near Redding and at the Thames River from London. And, we were quartered in various stables and so forth there in the horse country. We made two or three jumps. They were training jumps. One of which was the real -- as near to the combat as you could get. And we loaded up the airplanes in this little airfield and flew out to Bristol, England and turned and came back and dropped about three or fours miles away from the airport. But it was all -- it was so impressive at the time. You understand that 11:00 at night in those latitudes and on double daylight savings time. There's only about four hours of darkness and that's why you can see these moving pictures or -- of the planes taking off (?at Eindhoven?) and so forth because it was still daylight around 11:00. Well this particular time, we had made this one flight. The impressive thing to me was to look back and you could see nothing but C47s for miles. And, of course, that was the precursor to Normandy. And, of course, going to Normandy, they established a marshaling area on the airport and it's about like being in a minimum security prison. You can't get out. But the food was wonderful. And we stayed, I really don't remember, about a week, I guess. And.

Annette B. Fromm:

Where was that?

Carl Beck:

It was in Lambourne. And the name of the airfield was Welford Park Aerodrome -- British Aerodrome. And, they'd constructed this tent city where you couldn't get out. I don't think anybody really wanted -- we wouldn't miss that for anything. Because we wouldn't quit. So, you know, we were briefed then, on our mission in Normandy, which was to -- our particular unit was to seize and hold the locks and dams at a place called Pouppeville. In Normandy, the Germans had allowed the canal system and the locks and the dams to deteriorate to where it was almost all water. You go back to Normandy today and the cattle are grazing where the water was because it's being maintained and at that time, the fear was that behind Utah Beach where we were supposed to jump that the Germans would flood the causeways and there were four causeways coming down Utah and we were going to seize those causeways and the fourth division could come ashore, which they did. Very unfortunate for -- well, it just -- a lot of opinions on what happened in our particular case. At that time -- at the -- it took nine airplanes to carry a company of about 120 men. Of course, you had your artillery spotters and medics and so forth. You were in all V of Vs and only the lead plane had the homing device going to the pathfinders on the ground. Well, as we came over the coast of the Cotentin Peninsula, then we hit a fog bank and almost immediately picked up 20 millimeter anti-aircraft fire, and that stuff was just deadly. We were at about 800 feet. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, it was a bad scene. Our airplane got hit. And the jumpmaster threw the bundle out and, you know, you should get a 20 minute red light. You stand up, hook up, get ready to go, get your equipment ready to go and now, on the green light, you go. Well, we didn't get anything except a bell, and that means, just get out of there. Because when the -- you could hear the 20-millimeter hitting the airplanes -- it's like your head's in a bucket and somebody is pounding on the bucket. And, it was PFFFT (ph), out of there. So that I landed 12 mills from the drop zone, near a little town called Bupte, B-u-p-t-e. And, you know, there were 16,000 people jumped on that peninsula that night and I found one -- my friend Robert Johnson from Oklahoma from my company.

Annette B. Fromm:

So there were about a hundred people on your plane?

Carl Beck:

No, the plane, our plane, had about 18 people, I think. See, you could only -- it takes nine airplanes to haul a 120-man company. And, then plus your attachments and medics and so forth.

Annette B. Fromm:

So the 18 people that jumped with you?

Carl Beck:

Were scattered.

Annette B. Fromm:

Okay.

Carl Beck:

Were so scattered.

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh.

Carl Beck:

In training, I had always been first on that bundle, always. And, in fact, I was so confident about it, that my assistant squad leader who was armed with an '03 rifle with a grenade launcher on it, at that time, an M1 rifle didn't have the device necessary to fire the grenade. So, the '03 was so long he couldn't jump it. He rolled it up in a bundle and I gave him my carbine. Okay? So when I went out the door, this moon was shining about 1:00 in the morning, I turned, and I saw the bundle land and this little double-headed blue flash light throwing a real dim light, so it's got a little thing on it, when it gets the opening shock, it, you know -- it goes on. So, I saw the bundle. And when I hit -- landed -- made a pretty good landing. The parachute was over the hedgerow. I was kind of swinging in this ditch and got out of the parachute and went to hunt the bundle and I just couldn't find it. I mean, there was all kinds of shooting and activity going on. And of all the code signals and all the things we had to recognize each other, I skylined my friend Robert Johnson from Oklahoma. And he had a World War I bayonet on his rifle. And he was going across this field and I said, "Hey, Johnson" and we had two or three passwords and signs and countersigns and the little clicker and all that stuff. But that's all I could think of. So that we -- Robert and I -- wandered around for several days. And we could find where Americans had been. Some were dead. I saw my first American dead. But we found none of our unit. So we were -- when we jump, we had these jumpsuits and OD trousers and shirts under them. So we were just in rags. We were hungry. And we'd push our flesh in and it wouldn't come out. So we were starving. So, we were dodging patrols all this time. One quick example -- early one morning, we had just gone through this break in the hedgerow where the farmers would go into the apple orchards and pastures and so forth, and there was a right angle of the hedgerow and a bunch of blackberry briars growing in there. We had just gone through this gateway, and we heard this German patrol coming. We said, okay, we had all sworn, we would take some with us if they catch us. So, Robert kind of got down in that hedgerow, in those blackberry briars. We kind of made a spoon, I had the rifle between my knees. And those German patrol had a dog. And the dog came up to that blackberry briar patch and stuck his head in there and I was just about ready to shoot him. Stuck his head in there and sniffed around, then turned around and walked off. And I don't know why to this day. But believe me, I never hunted after that because when we were kids, rabbits and squirrels, I mean, that was just food in the pot, right? So, we escaped, I guess you would say, we were undetected. Until we got so desperate that we heard these French people working in an orchard behind the hedgerow. So we decided, well, we got to do something. So, Robert stood up on the hedgerow, and I covered him with the rifle -- and French people, if you've ever seen French farce, it's just magnificent at it. One woman looked up and saw Robert and it's dusky-like and rainy and we're cold and we're dirty and we blend with it, you know. She finally looked up and saw Robert and she went to get -- to her friends and this babble, just kind of, went away. Well, they knew who we were, but we didn't know who they were. And I found out later, incidentally, that if you could keep them out of the hands of the French police that you had a pretty good chance. Well, these folks were named Le Forestia, and as you know, the Normans are on those farmsteads for generations. In fact, they think, you know, they've got red hair, they're from the Danes, you know. So, Gustave (ph) Le Forestia, so he was kind of the leader, took us by a circuitous route and hid us in his barn. We stayed there about two or three days and he'd feed us potatoes and boiled eggs, he'd smuggle under his jacket. He usually would come in the evening. And one morning he came to get in. We figured, well, you know, the night before the Germans had been falling back and all the artillery and all falling around. And, we were up in the hayloft with the ladder pulled up. Gustave came one morning. We figured he was giving us, you know, he'd turned us in. We followed him down this little trail. And the 508 Regiment of the 82nd had just crossed the Douve river. They were still wet. And we joined with them, attacked this little town of Bupte that I was telling you about. We had gambling (ph) grenades that were plastic explosives stuck underneath an oil cloth kind of container, had a, like a bottle cap on it. And we carried those in these pockets here and you hold, when you take the cap off, you throw the thing and a little piece of engineer tape comes lose and it's armed. Well there's a tank coming through town and we'd kick down doors and ran these Germans out. And they were -- we thought we had a mouse trap behind this railroad track where high water, they couldn't get out. This little tank was coming through town and Robert Johnson said -- I'm going to throw my gambling grenade. So he got it out. And just as the tank was across from me, I threw that thing. It went over the tank and hit the wall on the other side and blew it down. I went back to Bupte a couple of times and I always point that out to these wonderful people. Johnson says oh, let me do mine. By this time the tank was behind him, he hit that tank and bowed in the turret. And this, a German, let that hatch down in the back and ran through the yard. Somebody shot him in a yard back there, but after all that, that guy got way. Anyway that was -- we then rejoined our unit. We stayed with the 508th Regiment, in fact we planned to go back to Nottingham with them. We went back to our unit, rejoined the unit at Carrington (ph). By this time, all that was left for us to do was to do paroles out with the tanks and so forth and go out and make the patrols. Back to England then by LST. Around late July, where we went back to Lambourne, and not in the same area, but in that general vicinity. We didn't make any more jumps then. We fitted for Holland, got replacements. So, then on September 17th --

Annette B. Fromm:

Forty-four?

Carl Beck:

Forty-four. Beautiful sunshiny, Sunday afternoon. And then my Dutch friends tell me that, you know, a quiet Sunday and here comes this Armada roaring, and all these guys dropping out of the skies. And it was a daylight drop. I had an A6 machine gun and what we called a leg bundle the that rigors (ph) had made. Got a little rip cord up here, and it hooks on a little yoke here and the cable goes down and hooks onto your legs. So that you're laying back real stiff, they actually put you in the airplane, you know, and all you've got to do is fall out of course. But I, this was daylight drop as I say. So as opposed to the Normandy drop. We were on the objective in about 30 minutes in Holland. And took this little town of Airity (ph). And we got cut off, but the objective was to seize theses canals and bridges going across the Wilhelmina, and the canal in the upper Rhine and the lower Rhine. And we were the southermost division operating around the Eindhovenwinkel area. We were near a little town called Airity. North of us was the 82nd. They were to do the lower Rhine and the Wilhelmina Canal. North of the Rhine -- as you know, the Rhine splits and the southern part called is called, what, the Waal and the Dieter (ph) Rhine, I forgot which is which. And on that is an island. Well, beyond the Rhine, of course, was the 82nd near Arnhem and north of those were a Polish brigade that had dropped. We called that Hell's Highway. And that was where the Bridge Too Far name came in. So we fought, you know, just a series of pretty stiff battles. And it seemed like we're always maneuvering against the German (?six faults?) of Jager Regiment, an airborne regiment, and they were a tough bunch of monkeys. I'll tell you, they will knew how to do it. And we just seesawed back and forth. For example, a night attack on us, the town of Schindel. It was so dark, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Tracers we are flying like, like street cars. And we attacked this town and, you know, it was pretty stiff. We took the town -- the other two companies moved out, down to, we had had reports of some coast artillery they were going to turn around and use on us. They were going to knock those at our company. H Company was lined up in the middle of the street. And, would you believe, here came a Dutch, and had an old coke. That had been in his attic for years, you know, and, of course, we had to open that coke, because, that was America, you know. And just sort of an aside. But then we went back to our lines, near Airity and hold to that railroad track and area. We finally moved north to -- to the island -- and stayed, things kind of quieted down. We would patrol across the Rhine River in rubber boats at night and just make patrols going around, trying to find information and the idea we found out later, is that the Dutch had an underground that was just unsurpassed. And they were hiding a bunch of British and Polish people, soldiers. And we had a thing called an "Incredible Patrol" from the 501 and one of our lieutenants took a platoon -- part of his platoon -- and he came back with two or three truckloads of enemy soldiers and we called it the Incredible Patrol. I'm sorry his name escapes me. He got a DFC (ph). In any case, late, along about Thanksgiving, the Canadian engineers brought up power boats and went across to rescue the rest of the British and Polish brigades -- get them back across the river. And we had one crazy lieutenant that went across with them and he went in kayak. And we were in this brick factory, overlooking the river and all this active and all going. It's the middle of the night. And he picked up a British sergeant major in that kayak. And was coming back across the river and he lost the paddle. And we heard him hollering for help going down the river. Could never see him. But there was nothing you could do. And I understand they found him in the Zuiderzee. He was dead. He died. They found his remains in the Zuiderzee later on. So that --

Annette B. Fromm:

Couldn't get out in time?

Carl Beck:

The lieutenant. Yeah.

Annette B. Fromm:

He couldn't get out of it?

Carl Beck:

Apparently not. My information is he lost the paddle, okay? And the current was taking him down the river. By the way the current is pretty strong. When we would go across, you're in this little rubber boat. The bank is moving. You're not moving. And someone says, "There's a power boat coming up the river" and you're paddling and you have a Tommy gun. And, what had happened, this British bomber had gone nose down right in the middle of the Rhine. And, what we thought was the wake was the current, going by that tail sector sticking up out of the air. And scared the fool out of us. But we -- made our patrol. And came back. So all told, we spent 72 days on the line in Holland. And again, there was wonderful people. I go back and, even before our 9/11, they had long established a thing called "remember September." And they'd decorate our monuments, they'd invite everybody to come, and they do -- the kids that made good grades, they get to read a poem. And have a big blowout on September 17, so they've always long called it "remember September." Of course and now we've got even more reason to remember September. But I go back to see those wonderful people and again, like I say, they had a wonderful underground and they think we walk on the water.

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh.

Carl Beck:

Well shortly -- I didn't mean to digress on this. But when we returned to France, we went to a place called Mourmelon.

Annette B. Fromm:

And how did you get there?

Carl Beck:

Truck.

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh.

Carl Beck:

Went by truck from yeah -- yeah, truck. And we were refitting, and we got word that -- my own personal experience, I was just returned from Paris, whatever you do when you're 18 years-old in Paris, I'm so old now I forgot. But anyway, one morning, bounced us out and said, all right, get on those trucks. These were these semi-trucks that got a canvas on the top of it. You get in this trailer, you know, they everybody would stick their head out of the canvas. And here comes the executive officer, you know, Allen, he's here with us today. He was our exec. He was in his Jeep coming down the line convoying, "Mount the machine guns over the side. The Germans are just up the road." We told him, come on, this shooting match is over. But it turned out to be the Ardan (ph) deny -- the offensive in the Ardan in December of 1944. So we trucked to Bastogne. De-trucked just south of the town. I guess we were on those trucks a couple of days, I guess. We didn't know where we were, where we were going. So we de-trucked. Double time through the town and took the high ground to the -- that would be -- our regiment went to the northeast portion of the towns near Mont and Neffe, and if you've been back to the museum, you can see those little towns from the roof of the museum. And took up our positions there. And we had some armor and artillery with us. The armor, in our case, consisted of a M18 tank destroyer, which, this crew was right there with us. We loved those guys, they had some big guns. I'm telling you they could help you out. Probably the worst of it that we got, besides being starved and out of ammunition, was on the 22 of December, '44 when they attacked our particular section and this M18 tank destroyer was what we call turret defilade. He was in this cut bank. His hull was undercover, but he could swing his main battery around. His 76 and he had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted up there. Well, the machine gun section from our headquarters company got knocked out near some haystacks. And the company commander here says, "Okay, Beck, get your machine gun and go up there." Up there -- that was the first time I had ever seen tracers meet -- ours and theirs, it was an odd -- those are odd kind of things that you notice to observe that you remember. I got the machine gun through this barbed wire and it was and A-6 on a bipod. And just as I was setting it down, a .31 caliber bullet bounced off the bipod. And, you know, I tried to save that will bipod, but I almost went home with a soprano voice, you know. But anyway, we set up. And they threw a grenade up there and I got hit in the head and I went back to the aid station. By this time, things had quieted down a little bit. And I spent -- the Germans had overrun our hospital, there wasn't any place to go anyway. So I was laying out on this stretcher in this house in real dim light, and here come the gunner from that tank -- or that tank destroyer -- he had been firing that .50 caliber out of a thing we called a ring mount. And he had a bullet up in his nose. What had happened was they were firing at him and one of the rounds hit the ring mount and he tried to duck and it caught him in the nose. He said, "Yeah, I saw those damn things coming and I couldn't duck in time." So -- as casualties, we weren't hurting too bad in that -- we lost some good people of course while we were there. By the way, during that battle on the 22nd, there was 72 dead out there the next morning -- German dead. So it was a pretty good fight. When we moved out and went to places like the Bois Jacques Woods, it was just -- mauling each other. What -- the Germans were trying to get their SS units out and their elite units out -- and were hitting us with (?vokes benedeers?) and then battling in the Bois Jacques Woods, we had kind of swung around, and the Bois Jacques is creek float (ph). I mean and it's iffy. Three brothers last March and March a year ago went back. I told them even in peace time and they, it snowed. And it's so, it's just eerie. It's creepy. Well, we caught this the battalion in the attack, the German battalion and shot them up. The tanks went high. We shot up the infantry behind them. But then after that brawl, we fell back along this railroad track. And took up our positions where we had sprung off from. We really were hurting -- I mean we lost a lot of people -- captured and killed. And then we -- I recall this one other instance again that you remember -- now, this is January '45 by this time. First week or two in January. Somehow some Christmas turkey had caught up to us, and somebody says, okay we're leaving these physicians (ph). It's in the middle of the night. And you pick up a machine gun and all old shelter half and a blanket and I had a frozen turkey leg, going down and trying to eat that turkey leg and it was hard as a rock. So that we, then went back to our physicians and by this time, the Germans was pretty quiet. And we got on trains and went to -- we went to, went -- oh, down to the -- in Alsace-Lorraine, down near the Colmar Pocket, the French were -- were on the left-like upstream (ph) side of the French. And, about all we did was set up again. We lost a right many people by going out and getting prisoners and going out on these paroles and bringing prisoners back. In fact we lost the first sergeant there and -- that had got a battlefield commission.

Annette B. Fromm:

Do you recall his name?

Carl Beck:

Say again.

Annette B. Fromm:

Do you recall his name?

Carl Beck:

Oh, yeah, it was Henderson. Henderson. He was our first sergeant. Got a battlefield commission and his -- you know, that's about all we would do -- go out and catch the prisoners and bring them back. And we lost quite a few people. So that then by this time it's around the spring of '45. And we were -- got on trains then and went back to Mourmelon and lived in some tents.

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh?

Carl Beck:

And it was nears Reims. And, by the way, some of our units were briefed to jump on the prison camps and hold them until got some armor there and they were always overrun. So, none of our group ever had to go. So that's where the Germans surrendered in Reims. Of course everybody said, hey, there's a (?bunch of craps down in Reims?) so let's go nail them. So, sure enough that's where they surrendered. So that the 501 Regiment, by the way, we were always the attached regiment. And the 101st, they were -- we called them square divisions as opposed to the older triangle divisions. You had three parachute regiments and one glider regiment in the division. Something like 20,000 people. Since we were the attached regiment, we went by train to ____ train and truck and by this time it's April or May, I guess, of 1945, and that's where we deactivate. So that many of us -- I only had 86 points. See, I didn't know that a purple heart was worth five points, see. And, you know, when the points system came out, we were in Mourmelon in these tents. I went and found this big Luke, big medic, from Minnesota or some place, I grabbed old Luke and says, "Hey, you remember that purple heart you evacuated me, in Bastogne?" Yeah, yeah, yeah. So he wrote me up for the thing and so I could get mine. So I ended up with 86 points and went to the 502 Regiment for the second group to come home in November '45. So that about ended the World War II experience and of course, I -- it was pretty wild when I -- I don't know if you remember it or not, but Eleanor Roosevelt, had had floated some criol (ph) balloon about some retraining for these guys that had been accustomed to throwing a grenade in the house and follow it with a squirt gun. You know, that -- I was the poster child for that I guess. I just couldn't simmer down. And, I wasn't doing anything evil. I was just fighting and drinking and just generally raising hell and embarrassing my family and all. So I re-enlisted. And stayed in the Army. I got hurt pretty bad on a parachute jump down in Texas in '53 -- almost ten years to the day after we qualified -- and I spent about a year in the hospital. But, went on what we call "straight leg" and stayed in until 1963 and got out.

Annette B. Fromm:

Now you earned a bronze star and a purple heart?

Carl Beck:

Uh-huh.

Annette B. Fromm:

Tell me about that.

Carl Beck:

Well the bronze star was not the one for valor -- with the V device -- it's an accomplishment, I guess. So that, essentially, everybody that all four missions with the 101st got the bronze star. And, of course, the purple heart. I got that for the points and then after I -- towards the end of my career -- in the meantime I had married and all -- and my late wife soldiered with me. And I had, was, my last duty station was a little college, in the military department of a college, called Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was -- all male school then -- and it's gone co-ed now. I retired from there. You know, I -- gave me a commendation medal -- which, you know, I appreciated -- but it didn't have any points attached to it. And I think I mentioned to you my will little wife, Virginia, she soldiered with me for about seven years and she told me --well, you know that -- if I wanted to stay married I'm going to move to Atlanta. So we moved to Atlanta.

Annette B. Fromm:

Now, you kind of slid the over the purple heart --

Carl Beck:

Yeah.

Annette B. Fromm:

-- the purple heart, again, the points you earned--

Carl Beck:

Well, what happened, and it's again going back to this night of December 22nd. Shoving this machine gun out through the barbed wire -- it was fence, not a concertina or military type wire. This guy was firing that 76 and it knocked me down. In other words, I got real mad and upset and I just finally picked it up and walked out. What you do is you're firing a final protective fire. And where these machine guns had gotten knocked out. The idea, is to try -- what you want to do is get an ankle cutter in there -- you want to fire that far from the ground. I mean, literally and then cross-fire with these machine guns. And we called it -- at that time it was called a final protective line. And it's now called the forward edge of the battle area. But it's a defensive setup with cross-fire and the idea is get all the artillery and anything that will shoot -- with a machine gun, flat trajectory weapons, you want to get your fire -- ankle cutters in there -- because nobody can walk, crawl, through it. So as the things were kind of dying down, you know, I was on my last box of ammunition, by the way. And didn't know where we were going to get any more. And I had been firing off sort of a, like a little terrorist-like thing. I go back and see that area. And apparently, one of Germans had just -- as they were falling back -- had pitched that grenade up and it was a -- they used what ____. It was just fragments of debris from the ground, frozen dirt and stuff. But I was, you know, kind of blinded for a few second. My assistant gunner was grabbing down here. He said, "Oh, you're bleeding like a stuck hog." But, it's night and dark and, you know, you can't see. So -- and I stayed with the machine gun until, you know, things kind of quieted down and we fell back -- went back down into our positions. And, you know, somebody said, well, you better go to the aid station. So that's where I ran up on the loop. I didn't get to spend any -- he wrapped it up, you know I got to spend the night in an aid station, you know, there was no place to go, it wasn't really that serious, but it -- it got me five points. So I just went back to the line the next day and it wasn't long after that, that we were relieved -- 4th Armored Division came through and relieved us about the 27th of December -- 26, 27, right after Christmas. So that was the only time we were really hit hard. I mean, there was aerial bombardments and they'd threaten to wipe us out with artillery and so forth. But we -- we held out, you know, short of ammunition and so forth, and food. Didn't know what food was. But it wasn't until we moved out and we ended up on the Luxembourg border. I remember going out on a patrol and there was a -- what we called a "Screaming Mimi" round. Screaming Mimi is a German multi-barrel thing that fires a smooth bore weapon -- projectile -- by rocket. And it's got a band around it where it goes through the air. The band makes a "reeeee, reeeee, reeeee", you know, and it's a real terrible sound. And, it's pretty bad news too. Lying in the snow, I saw a round -- now, you don't pick up anything, you know -- on the battlefield. Like I used to tell about booby traps and stuff. I laid my Tommy gun down and that thing was a Tommy gun length and about another foot longer. I was curious, you know, and it was about three or four in diameter. We ended up -- and I saw the marker of the Luxembourg border. And, we turned around and came back -- we were just a reconnaissance patrol. As we were coming back -- we hadn't been in the attack -- with the 501 Regiment on one side of a railroad track, the 502 on the other. And, as we were coming back, the 11th Armored Division, fresh from the states, was being committed. And their tanks and half-tracks and all were up right with -- coming through the 502. And you could look back over those hills and see the tanks and the artillery, and trucks and all this stuff. I said, "Ooooh, baby, we're out of here." Are so that -- that pretty well ended up that -- our Bastogne campaign there.

Annette B. Fromm:

You mentioned food. What was food like?

Carl Beck:

Well, wherever you could are scrounge, for example, in Holland while we were cut off, the Dutch people made us some potatoes and stuff. Once in while you'd get food in mermite cans -- it was cooked and brought up to you by truck. ____ Okay. ( ____ +6 seconds) All right. Well, back to the food situation. In Holland we were on the British full rations and they had what they call for ragings, and think had what they call 14-in-1 rations. And some of that stuff, it was just terrible, I mean, oxtail soup. It was something else. But they had some tea in there that was already made up. It had the cream until it and sugar and you could heat it up. We liked the British armor because -- or any armor -- because they carried a blow torch, and you could take a blow torch, you see, and heat up all your tea and that sort of stuff. And, that didn't go down too well. Our mainstays were K-rations and C-rations -- stuff that came in the cans, stuff that came in the little boxes. Hot food was practically nonexistent unless you could figure out some way to build a fire or something. But it was, it was just a catch-as-catch-can thing. Again, living off the civilians in Holland. I started to mention Robert Johnson, that got killed in Holland by the way.

Annette B. Fromm:

Oh.

Carl Beck:

We were, had six canteens cups apiece. The Dutch, we were going out on call, an outpost line of resistance, OPLR, and, you know, to divide up our potatoes and stuff. Well, we were being resupplied by C-47s and they had made a run and had dropped resupplying equipment -- food and ammunition and so forth. But somehow, the Messerschmidts, the German fighter planes, got into them and it was just murder. I remember seeing one C-47 that this Messerschmidt came up to it and it looked like fire shot out of it and that whole engine, nobody got out. It was just murder. And while Robert, while they were firing the 20-millimeter fire at them, the German, 20-millimeter fire we hit the ground. You know, we almost spilled that food. I remember being face down in these, where they were traversing with that 20-millimeter, they hit a little pine tree with one of those explosive rounds, right beside of it -- through all that sand and gunk in our potatoes. But man I wasn't about to drop those potatoes. But that was kind of a catch-can as thing for food. Resupplied -- after the resupply of C-47s in Holland -- now this had to have been late September of 1944. The we got resupplied by two B-24 bombers. Opened the bomb doors, and dropped equipment bundles. And the day before we had been in this position, had driven off the Germans, and were in these ditches -- and just tired and worn out and all. We heard this awfullest roar, and as I turned around, here came one of these B-24s and he was dropping his bundles, and out of all the things that came out of that Bombay, was a little motorcycle. You know a scout-type, we called it a 45, a Harley-Davidson 45 -- and that was the little scout motorcycle hanging under a parachute. And the first thing I thought was something like out of Salvador Dali. It was just those odd kind of things that grab you. And I don't know why those kind of memories as opposed to some of the killing, you know, I don't know maybe, maybe. In Bastogne, one of my, my best friends, his father was chief of police in this little town in Pennsylvania. I visited him there, and he got a mortar (ph) round in his belly, and he was kind of hanging -- we put him on an old door and kind of put him in this barn. He looked up and says, "Fini." Like he just knew. So --

Annette B. Fromm:

I'm sorry.

Carl Beck:

Bones Watts was one of our favorite people. Bones loved coffee. And on maneuvers and stuff, he's get -- you're not suppose to have fire or anything. Well, he'd tear up little pieces of K-ration boxes and put them in a hole and light them up. So, you know, fan it and heat up that coffee. Drink that coffee. Well, when he found C2, the composition C we made the gambling grenades out of, he'd take a little pinch of that and put it on the ground in maybe a little hole and you light it, it would go "tshuh," about like acetylene. And, hold your canteen cup, boy, and that will heat that coffee right away, see. And, Bones found that out. But that stuff is like a acetylene. One time he was doing it and burnt a hole out the bottom of his canteen cup. Poor old Bones, I guess I shouldn't tell it, but anyway the Germans came by one time and strafed us one time right off the beachhead. And after I got back up there at Carrington, we joined the unit. And, old Bones was going to have -- he had a little M3 sub-machine gun. He walked up to a cow -- toong, toong, toong, toong -- and shot the cow. We could have had us some fresh beef. You see. So, you know, the cow got killed while he was being strafed. And Bones got killed in Holland. He had been in the same ____ position where the B-24s resupplied us, and during the firefight the day before, he had some binoculars. He hadn't shot any croutes (ph) in Normandy. He was looking through them. And then they nailed him. He was just a great guy. Are we called him Bones because he was so skinny and he talked -- skinny, good old Bones. Well, at any rate I didn't mean to digress and skip around like this, it's hard to get it -- you think of one thing and --

Annette B. Fromm:

You're doing great. Did you stay in touch with your family at all?

Carl Beck:

Yeah, pretty much. My father died between, after we got off the line in Holland. And we were back in the barracks at Mourmelon, our first time in Mourmelon. And I got word that my father died. And I remember, you know, after all that killing and all in Holland and all -- this was just before I got that leave to Paris. I can't remember which -- the sequence was, but I remember, I used to have a tooth out in front, had this little cigarette holder made out of ivory and silver. I would, you know, a big macho guy to stick it up in there, I'd lean over and light the cigarette on a hot machine gun barrel. I remember after all that killing and stuff, just walking -- that night -- walk being, you know, in this countryside just crying, and, you know, and thinking, you know, after all that killing and all that stuff, you know, where does it hit you? Of course, that's where it hits you. I almost got a chance to come home, but a friend of mine -- I'll tell you his name in a minute -- had that DFC and they sent him home on a bomb tour. But, I couldn't -- not much you could do anyway. But, yeah, and then V-mail is one of our favorite things. They take this photograph and then this letter -- and one of our tricks was -- we would get it back in the reserve area and the food and stuff would -- ketchup and mayo -- stuff would catch up to you. We take sand and dirt and put in a number ten can. Pour gasoline on it. And light it. See and it would make your light, you know. So, ____ or be mad. That's a pretty dangerous darn thing, in fact. Leonard Morris, who is here today, in this same position, out overlooking the Rhine in this brick factory. A guy named Mayin (ph) kicked one of those over, accidentally. And it burnt him real bald. Leon had to bring him out in the daytime. You're just not supposed to move in the daytime. And he about got court-martialed. He stood up, you know --

Annette B. Fromm:

Yeah.

Carl Beck:

And he got, he got Man out of there and it was, but he did the right thing. And everybody knew he did the right thing. So, but anyway. I started to tell you about the V-mail. It came folded over, maybe about all quarter of it, folded over with the address, you know, and all. A lot of guys would take a match or light and they'd light the top of it and read it and it would burn. It was quite a trick.

Annette B. Fromm:

Well, it seems like you had a lot of good luck?

Carl Beck:

You betcha.

Annette B. Fromm:

Did you do anything for good luck, did any of the men have good luck charms?

Carl Beck:

Oh, I carried a handkerchief from a lady I was in love with. Her name was Joan. I even named my machine gun Jivin' Joan. Old stencil here, I used to make a stencil -- stencil that on the side of it. Yeah, I had this handkerchief. I got of solace from religion, particularly this little New Testament -- or a Testament that I had -- had the Old and New Testament in it. And, we'd read that in the daytime, particularly while we were in this barn. The Germans were all over the place. They'd come in to the courtyard and fire and jabber away, you know, and take off. It was could have been pretty messy if they decided to look for us. And I got a lot of solace from that. And, strangely enough, the 91st Psalm, where about the 10,000 on your one hand and, you know, it will spare you, and none will harm you or words to that effect. And, will you believe, last Sunday in church, we had a responsive on the 91st Psalm. It kind of grabs you, you know. So, yeah, I got a great deal of solace out of the religion -- But, you know, it's strange enough, like when we had these Germans mousetrapped in Bupte behind the railroad track. Four of these guys, got up, a little spur railroad track. And there was a 20-millimeter gun on a push car. You know what a push car -- it don't have a motor, it don't have a motor, but you tow it with that machine. You just don't hardly see a target like that. And, I shot those guys and had no qualms about doing it. And, others in the Bois Jacques, where we had swung around and we were on the flank of this infantry following the tanks, I had no qualms at all about shooting them. Yet every time I would see a dead American, it would just about kill me. And I don't know what causes that insensitivity to all of mankind. Would I do it again? But --

Annette B. Fromm:

What did you boys do to entertain yourselves?

Carl Beck:

Play combat rules volleyball or baseball. Rough house and, well, just --

Annette B. Fromm:

Any music?

Carl Beck:

Well, we -- in England, of course, we had a little time on our hands and everybody would go off on pass and we'd -- some of the guys got into her majesty's fish pond or something with some hand grenades and we had to answer for that. Tennessee Maneuvers, and this would have been the winter of '43 -- fall and winter -- some unknown characters raided the hen houses of these farmers around. We had a commanding officer called Jumpy Johnson. Man, he was some kind of character, I mean he was a real leader, just full of beans. You know, and he was a great, great combat guy. And he had -- my friend, the guy that got killed in the (?cawall-line?), I was the lookout. And, you know, when you steal chickens, you take a, like a broom handle and the chicken is on the roost, right? You hit that foot. She'll lift up that foot and you move it. And she'll lift up the other foot. And pretty soon, when Joe got about three or four of those chickens out of there, and he rung it's his neck and he had these chickens. I was the lookout. Somehow I didn't see him or something. He jumped over and into this ditch where I was, and had a chicken in each hand and anyway, we ate chicken then. About a day or two later, ____ Jumpy Johnson got the whole regiment together -- I think he assessed us, the enlisted men, the figure escapes me. He assessed the regiment enough to pay for that. And, the enlisted men, I think, got like 4 cents, and the officers had to pay 11 cents. And, you lined up, and put the money, you know. But, yeah, that was entertaining. We were a pretty rowdy bunch. Some of the things we're not particularly proud of, but.

Annette B. Fromm:

When you were in combat or in between combat, did you pull any pranks like that?

Carl Beck:

Well, we used to go, while we were in England -- we like jeeps. And we had been known to kind of rip off a jeep and ride around all night, you know, and all that stuff. So, one of our favorite tricks was somebody would steal a jeep and we'd go and raunch around and look for the ladies. You know, or stuff like that. We'd take the jeeps over to the 506 area and stash them and one or two guys would have to walk back. But we didn't want to get caught with the MP jeep in the 501 area. So yeah, there were some pretty good pranks we pulled. And again, some of them we're not so proud of. But it mostly involved, you know, fighting with somebody, you know, kind of -- it's part of life, you know.

Annette B. Fromm:

Do you recall your last day of service, and where you were?

Carl Beck:

During World War II?

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh.

Carl Beck:

I couldn't specifically say the last day. But it was in August of '45, I was with the 502 Regiment when we dropped the atomic bomb. Wasn't that August of -- no, as you were (ph) -- when the Russians attacked Japan, that was one of my last -- because we, we had a company commander, living in wild (ph), he told us back in Mourmelon, near Reims. Said, you know, we whipped these idiots over here, by God I'm going to go kill those guys over there and you sons of bitches are going with me. Hey, okay. So, we were ready to go to Japan. And to get back to answer your question, I recall when the -- we were so glad that the Russians had attacked one way or the other -- declared war on Japan. And then it wasn't long after that, that I left that unit and we came back to camps called Lucky Strike and Pall Mall and stuff, that were the name of the camps coming back and I ended up in Antwerp, in a place, I believe it was Lucky Stripe (ph) and came home with, on one of the old liberty ships. And two or three of our guys were with me, and a guy named Bonafee (ph), he'll be here too, to our reunion. The last day, I can't, no, say that I -- you know, I remember being in the 502 and goofing off, you know, supposed to keep on training and all that sort of stuff. And, you know, I just goof off. You know, I knew everything was about over with.

Annette B. Fromm:

Then when you came back to the states you didn't take advantage of the GI bill?

Carl Beck:

No, I didn't. Like I say, I had, I was financially, I had a lot of money for somebody that was not 19 years-old. And, oh, man, I'd get this way -- I'd had the bartender come to me and say, stop buying booze for these guys, the wives are calling me and raising hell. And this little town of 400 people, and the word had got out, it was all -- I had bought a radio shop and a truck and I lost my fanny (ph) then. Oh, I joined the 5220 club, you got, you got twenty dollars a week for 52 weeks -- if you weren't employed or something. We called it the 5220 club. And that was about the nearest thing, while I was soldiering with the 82nd at Fort Bragg, '47 to '48 I took a flying course. And got a private pilot's license and all that. Just for something to do more than anything. No, but I tell you that was -- that was a beauty -- you got doctors and lawyers and successes in life now, that you wouldn't have if it hadn't been for that. Naw, but --

Annette B. Fromm:

You decided to stay in the service?

Carl Beck:

Say again?

Annette B. Fromm:

You decided to stay?

Carl Beck:

Yeah, I just -- I just couldn't hardly stand it. I mean, you know, I was just -- just wild, I wasn't mean or evil, I didn't rob banks or anything like that. You know, fighting and all, just the -- you know, kind of embarrassing to my family and all. My brother.

Annette B. Fromm:

What rank were you when you finally left the service?

Carl Beck:

After 20 years?

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh.

Carl Beck:

Oh, I was an E-7. At that time the -- what we call the super grades had just come out. You understand, as a master sergeant when there were seven enlisted grades, the master sergeant was as high as you could go. Well, a master sergeant could be a first sergeant, a sergeant major, either in a regiment or a division. That was a E-7. Well, around '62, '63, the super grades of E-s and E-9s came out. So, at an E-8 -- would be a first sergeant in grade -- you know, a pay grade as well as a title. Where when you were a master sergeant, you could still be a first sergeant. The same thing with a sergeant major. A sergeant major is now a title and it's an E-9 grade. And a pay grade, as well as a title. So the that the, now the E-7s are a sergeant first class, so that's what they try to call me in my -- but I correct my records to say I was a master sergeant when I got out -- okay, you got that straight? And, so.

Annette B. Fromm:

And, did you stay in the 501st or --

Carl Beck:

No, I -- well, the 501st deactivated, as I say, in May or so of 1945 in Birch's (ph) Garden. But when I re-enlisted, you see, the 82nd was still on active duty. So I joined the 504 Regiment. And, about the first day, you got in a C-47, you made a pay jump. See, that was 50 bucks a month. So, I had to get on jump status. And, so I joined the 82nd and went to various outfits there and ended up at Fort Benning in the 508, well, it was a regimental combat team. Flew down to Texas. I got hurt pretty bad on a parachute there.

Annette B. Fromm:

Bad. How long?

Carl Beck:

Yeah, I spent about a year in the hospital. Fixed me up though. I had 12 years in by that time. It was, by the time I got out of the hospital, and it was a good time to stay in. Anyway, I got out, I guess I say in '63 and made another career, traffic engineering, so.

Annette B. Fromm:

Now, you come to the 501st reunions?

Carl Beck:

Yeah.

Annette B. Fromm:

Does the 82nd have a reunion?

Carl Beck:

Sometimes, I will go -- the 82nd has a thing called All American Week. And, they invite all us old goats to come and march in the parade. Same thing with the 101st, they have the Week of the Eagles, at Fort Campbell. So, I've been to various of those. And, I will ____ to those things occasionally, just to keep my hand in, because I'm really impressed with this Army we've got today. I'm telling you, these guys, I mean, they're smart and tough, and they're a tough bunch of cats. And, you know, they've got some emoluments that we didn't have and which they richly deserve. Like, you know, eminent danger pay. Jump pay, I think, is 150 bucks a month. They've got a lot of family services we didn't have. So, it took years and years for the Army to wise up and they still haven't, by the way. And there's still a lot of loose ends hanging out there, but they've finally decided, the treasure that they've got -- these men and women -- and they're taking care of them a lot better than they did us. Compensatory things like pay and quarters and so forth. So yeah, it would be a -- I mean, take me back 50 years, let me go.

Annette B. Fromm:

How do you think your service and experience have affected your life?

Carl Beck:

Well, it just, it just -- what character I have, I suppose, it rubbed off on me. The moral character, although we'd raise hell and fuss and fight. I mean --

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh.

Carl Beck:

We're -- the integrity, the honesty, the -- I think stays with me. I'm supposing I've had that since childhood. That's the way I was raised -- not to lie, cheat and steal. The memories, get a little tough sometimes, particularly with our groups that we're having our reunion now, it kind of grabs you. But, yeah, it had a profound effect at -- in those terms. I think, I think it made a survivor -- it's a little hard to say really, your childhood, being poor in the depression, you know, you were never deprived of love or an education or anything, you were just poor. You, you, but you didn't steal, you know.

Annette B. Fromm:

Uh-huh.

Carl Beck:

So a lot of these stories of going out and stealing chickens and stuff is more of a prank than anything else. You know, you got to answer for somebody. But I think that the depth of the integrity remained with me. And the loyalty too, to our people. Yeah, I think in that way I had -- it had quite a profound effect on me.

Annette B. Fromm:

Is there anything else you'd like to add to the interview?

Carl Beck:

Yeah, I tell you, my 15 minutes in the sun was to go back to Normandy in June of 1994 and jump on D-plus-50 years.

Annette B. Fromm:

You mean you really jumped?

Carl Beck:

Yup, and -- about 40 of us. And a gentlemen down here at the -- runs the flight service in Atlanta -- Epps Aviation. Flew, it was an old C-47, by the old route by Newfoundland, Iceland, England, France, and picked us up. And the French people, bless their hearts, they hosted us. If I can say this, Continental Airlines flew us all together. We had to wear those uniforms that we had made. And we had gone to San Diego and made four jumps and then everybody went home. Continental picked us all up, and flew us to Houston. Houston to Orly. Orly, we took the bus and the French people hosted us, you know, in their houses and stuff. And we got together and jumped from that C-47. And that was my 15 minutes in the sun. It was just a tremendous experience. We didn't want -- and received nothing from the government. Oh, we got two jumpmasters came over from Germany to help us out. And that was all because the government didn't want us to go. I mean, we practically had to have an Act of Congress ____, you folks are going to kill yourselves. No, but. These new parachutes are wonders to behold, these squares. And I tried, I took up skydiving. And I went 14 times trying to go from level six -- which is going out with an instructor, you know, flipping and all that stuff -- and I could never get stable. So I gave that up and went back to static line. And about a year ago when they opened the Airborne Special Forces Museum, I made my last jump up there -- I guess last year or year before. So anyway, you kind of, kind of. But anyway, I really wanted to get that in.

Annette B. Fromm:

Okay.

Carl Beck:

Okay. All right.

Annette B. Fromm:

Okay, thank you.

Carl Beck:

Well, I didn't mean to take up all that time. You got another one coming.

 
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