H/T Badass Of The Week.
R.I.P. Sergeant Joe Beyrle.
I skipped part of this story as it is a bit of an anti Nazi rant.
So, to that end, here’s an article about a dude who not only kicked Fascist balls for the U.S. of A., but a man who hated those assholes so bad that even after he got captured he broke out of his POW camp, joined up with the Soviet Red Army, and became the only man in World War II to kill Nazis while wearing two different uniforms.
It’s the story of United States Army Paratrooper Joe Beyrle, Staff Sergeant of the 82nd Airborne Division and, later, Private of the Soviet First Guards Tank Army. This is his mugshot from the POW camp. It is sure as shit not the mugshot of a man who would sit politely and let you “well, actually” his ass about the subtle misunderstood intricacies of National Socialist ideology. That’s for damn sure.
When the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor went down exactly 75 years ago yesterday (I was on a documentary about this recently!), Joseph Beyrle was a high school senior in Muskegon, Michigan. He was a big, strong, asskicking motherfucker who had already been offered a full-ride scholarship to play baseball at Notre Dame, but when a bunch of Imperialist assholes decided to screw with the American way of life he turned down the scholarship, enlisted in the Army, and immediately volunteered for the toughest group of bastards the Army had to offer – the Parachute Infantry.
After a brutal accelerated training regimen, exhausting PT in the blistering heat, extended forced marches, grueling full-kit runs up Currahee mountain, and both British and American Jump School, Beyrle was in England by 1943 and ready to start stomping Fascist guts by falling on them from very high altitudes. D-Day was still a few months away, but Staff Sergeant Beyrle didn’t want to wait that long, so he volunteered for an incredibly dangerous series of missions – basically, the OSS would load him up with a backpack full of gold and he’d parachute in the France in the middle of the night, where he’d get picked up by the French Resistance, give them the gold, and then they’d shuttle him around for a few days until he was able to catch a ride back to England.
This is hard core deep cover spy shit behind enemy lines, where failure would probably result in summary execution. He pulled it off without a hitch.
Then he went back and did that shit a second time.
Joe Beyrle had already hefted a carbine on French soil twice when the word finally came down that it was time to liberate the European continent from the Fascist scourge. On the pitch-black night of June 5, 1944, Beyrle and the 101st Airborne Division flew in on their dangerous mission to land behind enemy lines, cut bridges and power supplies, and soften up defenses for the men who were going to land on Utah Beach at dawn. With planes blowing up around him, flak explosions rocking his aircraft, and tracer fire from anti-aircraft cannons snaking around the sky in every direction, Joe Beyrle jumped out of a goddamn airplane to death-from-above the Germans with his massive raging Freedom-boner.
Unfortunately, he landed on the roof of this church at Come du Mond. And, oh yeah, there was a fucking Nazi sniper hiding in the steeple, and that asshole was taking potshots at Beyrle’s parachute during the entire descent.
With bullets planking off the roof around him, in pitch darkness, with his parachute still spread out around him, Joe Beyrle shimmied down off the roof, slammed a mag into his M1 Carbine, and started out on a mission so badass that when you visit the church at Come du Mond today you can see a plaque that looks like this:
Beyrle was a fucking Army of One back before that became Branding™. Completely alone, with no real idea where the rest of his unit was, he killed a few Nazis, found the Come du Mond power substation, blew it up with thermite, ambushed a full squad of German infantry by chucking grenades at them, and then headed off to blow up a bridge and prevent the Nazis from sending reinforcements to Utah Beach.
The Germans marched Beyle deeper into France, towards a POW holding area, when suddenly explosions started ripping out around them everywhere – either German artillery or American aircraft, it was tough to tell, but both Germans and American POWs were getting blown up by it and it sucked for everyone. Beyrle took shrapnel in his ass and was blown off his feet and into a ditch, but rather than lay there and cry about it he used to opportunity to escape. He evaded capture for another 12 hours behind enemy lines before they caught him again.
This time they put him in a truck and drove it towards St. Lo., but the truck was strafed by Allied aircraft. Beyrle tried to escape again, was caught, was taken to St. Lo., and then the Americans bombed St. Lo all night long and Beyrle was lucky to survive it.
Now, at various points I’m going to quote Sgt. Beyrle here, because they simply don’t make guys like this anymore. If you want to read his full first-person account, there’s a link to it at the bottom.
I was interrogated 20-24 hours a day, they were trying to get all the usual questioned answered. “Why me, a German, was I fighting for the Jews Roosevelt and Morganthau against my own people?” Sometime during the questioning I called a German officer a “SOB” and woke up several days later in a hospital with a big headache and a bashed head and later I was taken back to the monastery.
For the next three months Beyrle was starved, beaten, interrogated, and moved to a number of different camps. He’d work during the day, survive Allied bombings at night, and weather hunger, disease, and exhaustion constantly. At one point he was locked in a boxcar for a week with 50 other guys. The train was then strafed by Allied planes, and he was lucky to survive that (it seems to be a recurring thing that this dude kept almost getting teamkilled by his own dudes). By September of ’44 he was in Poland, at a Russian POW camp with about 12,000 Russian men and women POWs.
Naturally, he immediately began planning his escape.
On a cold night in November of 1944, Joe Beyrle and 3 other Americans cut through the barbed wire in the camp and began their escape South. They snuck into a railway station, hopped a train car headed for Poland, and planned to meet up with the Red Army as it pushed through the region.
Unfortunately, they got on the wrong train, and ended up in fucking Berlin.
One thing you never hear much about is that there were a large number of Germans who fucking hated Hitler, and they’d organized a German Underground Resistance that would help the Allies during the war. Beyrle and the Americans, still in their POW uniforms, linked up with the resistance, and spent nearly a week hiding from the authorities and attempting to contact Allied Command.
The Gestapo found them first.
In the next 7 to 10 days we found out everything we had heard about the Gestapo was true. We were interrogated, tortured, kicked, knocked around, walked on, hung up by our arms backwards, hit with whips, clubs, and rifle butts. When you thought they could do no more, they would think of other ways to torture you. When you would slip into semi-consciousness, they would start again.
(Still think this sounds like a viable form of government?)
After about a week the Gestapo turned Beyrle over to the German Army, and they put him back in the prison camp at Stalag Luft III – where he was sentenced to spend 30 days in a 4-by-5 pine box as punishment for escaping. Luckily he only served 7 days in a box so small he couldn’t lay down, but that was only because a Red Cross operative from Geneva intervened on his behalf.
It took months for Beyrle to get his strength back, but, as soon as he did, you could be goddamn sure that he was going to make another run for it. With his 3 buddies, Beyrle broke through a wall and made a mad dash for freedom – the Nazis machine gunned all 3 of Beyrle’s friends to death as they ran for it, but Beyrle got away – only to hear the faint barking of the German Shepherds the Nazis sent to hunt him down.
So, in the freezing ass motherfucking cold of Poland in January, Sgt. Beyrle dove into a frozen river and followed it for a couple miles East to throw off the trail of the dogs.
Somehow, miraculously, after not being shot, devoured by hounds, or freezing to death, Joseph Beyrle reached Soviet lines. He met up with the First Guards Tank Army, and was greeted by Battalion Commander Aleksandra Samusenko, a woman who holds the distinction of being the only female tank commander of World War II. Even though he spoke very little Russian, Beyrle convinced Samusenko to let him join up, so she gave him a PPSH-41 submachine gun, a few drums of ammunition, and told him what their next objective was:
He was about to fucking liberate the POW camp he had just escaped from.
The Red Army smashed the POW camp after a short but bloody fight, and Beyrle had the honor of raiding the camp office and stealing back the POW photo the Germans had snapped when they first captured him. He continued to fight through the Eastern Front for a couple months, kicking ass in battles across Poland, but when a Stuka dive bomber blew up the tank Beyrle was riding on he ended up in a Russian field hospital.
When word came down that there was a U.S. POW in a Red Army uniform, things got kind of crazy. Beyrle met Zhukov, was sent back to Moscow, and linked up with the U.S. Embassy there. Unfortunately, when Beyrle finally met a friendly American face after nearly a year of getting his ass kicked behind enemy lines, it turned out that there was yet another problem:
The U.S. Ambassador told him that Joseph R. Beyrle was declared KIA on June 10, 1944.
The Ambassador was a little concerned that Beryle was lying about his identity and may have been a German spy, and Beyrle was shipped around to Odessa, Egypt, and Italy, before finally being cleared and returning home on April 11, 1945. His parents were pretty surprised and happy to see him, mostly because they thought he’d been dead for ten months.
Joe Beyrle was given the Purple Heart, and was honored with awards by Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin at a ceremony in the 1990s – where he was also given a badass custom AK-47 by the friggin’ dude who invented the AK-47. Beyrle’s son would go on to be the U.S. Ambassador to Russia under G.W. Bush and Obama.
I’ll end this the way he ends his autobiography, because it’s amazing:
My funeral Mass was held at St. Joseph’s Church in Muskegon by Father Stratz on September 17, 1944. My wife and I were married in the same church on September 14, 1946, by Father Stratz. We are now the parents of a daughter and two sons and have seven grandchildren.