he story of soldier Joseph Beyrle is absolutely incredible because of the courage he showed during World War II. He is believed to be the only American soldier to join the Soviet Red Army during World War II, not to mention that he might also be the only soldier to survive being captured by the Germans three times. In order to understand the long journey that Joseph Beryrle took from the Western front to the Easter front, we need to look at the beginning of his military career.
A dedicated soldier
Joseph R. Beyrle also nicknamed “Jumping Joe” was born in the city of Muskegon, Michigan in 1923. He was raised in a typical American family which offered him high aspirations for his future. His parents always pushed him towards acquiring a good education to the point where, in 1942, he was offered a scholarship from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. However, being shocked by the attack at Pearl Harbor, he felt that he needed to play his part, just like every American, and join the US Army, thus refusing the scholarship.
After a year of training, he was assigned to the 506 paratroopers — an elite rank of soldier who parachutes into the battlefield — regiment. These soldiers were trained for one very specific mission, Operation Overlord, or as other people may better know it, D-Day. This operation oversaw the invasion of German troops controlling France through Normandy’s beaches. However, some soldiers would be parachuted behind enemy lines to take down critical defensive positions overseeing/protecting Normandy’s coast.
On the 6th of June, 1944, Operation Overlord was in full throttle, and the plane in which Beyrle was had its engines shot down by German anti-aircraft defenses. This forced the soldiers to jump out at 120 meters altitude, an altitude at which the parachute may not have time to fully open. The soldiers from the 506 paratroopers were scattered all over behind enemy lines. Beyrle managed to land on the roof of a church and continued solo with his mission which was destroying the electrical generators found at Saint Marie-du-Mont.
Captured, and tortured, but not deprived of his will to fight
Beyrle went onwards, trying to find buddies from his regiment as well as sabotaging everything that seemed vital to the German troops. Sadly, the Germans caught him and took him as a prisoner to a war camp (concentration camps made specifically for captured soldiers). He was moved from camp to camp until he found a window of escape, however, he soon got captured again.
The second time, he escaped with other American soldiers and they tried to get onto a train that was heading for Poland in order to reach the Soviet Army, however they embarked on a train that was heading straight for Berlin. Upon their arrival, they all got captured again by the Gestapo (the German secret police). They believed Beyrle and his war buddies were American spies, therefore they were sent to another concentration camp named Stalag III-C near Kostrzyn nad Odra, Poland.
Being adopted by the Soviet Army
At the beginning of January 1945, Beyrle managed to escape for the third time. This time he was once again alone and he made sure that he was heading East in the hopes that he will find Soviet soldiers. During his journey, he encountered a battalion of Soviet T-34 tanks. The Soviet soldiers stopped him and pointed their guns at him as they thought he was a German fighter, at which point, Beyrle pulled out a packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes (American cigarettes) and he shouted the only phrase he knew in Russian.
“Amerikansky tovarischch (American friend)”
After being accepted by the Soviets as an American ally, Beyrle convinced the commander of the battalion to let him fight with them. The commander accepted and offered him a Soviet uniform and a PPSH-41 Soviet submachine gun. Beyrle offered them information about the Stalag III-C concentration camp where he was held as a prisoner, therefore in February of 1945, Beyrle with the help of the Soviet Red Army managed to liberate the camp.
Beyrle kept fighting beside the Soviet Army until he was injured by a German aerial attack. He was sent to the hospital of Landsberg an der Warthe in Gorzow, Poland. This is where he got a visit from the marshal Gheorghi Jukov, who was impressed by the story of the American soldier who fought in the Soviet Army. Beyrle asked marshal Jukov to help him get back to America, and, because of this, Jukov ordered his men to take Beyrle to the United States embassy in Moscow.
The first piece of information he got from the American embassy was that he had been declared dead on the 10th of June, 1944, four days after he had landed in Normandy. As he was declared dead on paper, and with no identification on him, he was placed in a cell until the workers at the embassy could get his credentials. A few days later he was put on the first ship traveling to America, with a telegram sent by the embassy to his parents, letting them know that he is alive and on his way back home.
Joseph Beyrle arrived home on the 21st of April 1945 and became the hero of Michigan. Everyone wanted to hear his stories from the front, showcasing his bravery of constantly escaping and the comradery of joining the Soviet army. In 1946 he got married to JoAnne Hollowell in the same church where his funeral had been held when he was declared dead by the US Army.
In 1994, Beyrle was decorated with the Medal of Honor at the White House by American president Bill Clinton and Russian president Boris Eltin in a ceremony for the passing of fifty years since D-Day.
Sadly, Joseph R. Beyrle passed away on the 12th of December 2004 from a heart attack. He is now resting at the Arlington National Cemetery.