War stories: Core III students attend World War II presentation


Al Fairchild

Al Beinemann talks to Core III students.

Al Fairchild, Staff Reporter

The staff and residents of Libby’s House, an assisted-living facility for seniors in Plymouth, welcomed the students of a Lakeland College Core III class on March 8 to hear a presentation by World War II veteran Al Beinemann.

Joshua Kutney, instructor of writing, first introduced his Excellence and Innovation class to Libby’s House last semester and has worked since then to keep the lines of communication open. When Pam Beyersdorf, therapeutic program director at Libby’s House, contacted Kutney recently asking if his class might be interested in hearing Beinemann, he jumped at the chance to expose class members to the sort of innovation-in-action practiced by GIs during the war.

“We said that would fit beautifully with what we’re up to,” Kutney said. “All this discussion of globalization doesn’t wire everybody up. Some really important information gets pushed to the periphery, and we think the elderly are one group that gets neglected in the model.”

Beinemann, a veteran of three major battles in the European theater—the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of the Rhineland, and the Central European Campaign in Germany—represents a group of people whose recollections of one of the most important chapters in American history are in imminent danger of being lost.

“Al [Beinemann] tells us,” said Beyersdorf,“ that we are losing about 1000 of our World War II veterans every day. Very soon now, they will no longer be around to tell us their stories.”

In his presentation, Beinemann jumped immediately to the parts that pertained directly to the Core III curriculum. He was attached to the 83rd Infantry Division (“Thunderbolt”) as it drove through Europe towards Berlin during 1944 and 1945. The division encountered a number of obstacles that had not been fully anticipated, ranging from France’s many hedgerows that were found to be more formidable than solid walls (“you couldn’t climb them and they were like barbed wire to go through”), to the enemy’s use of thin wire strung across roads to decapitate the occupants of open Jeeps; a tactic countered by GI-made metal deflectors attached to the hoods of the Jeeps.

The infantry veteran displayed some of the symbols the Army uses to reward excellence, including the Bronze Star he won during a bridge action in Germany, the Purple Heart he was awarded after he delivered a more-seriously wounded soldier to an aid station–and then went back to the fight as one of the “walking wounded”—and the Presidential Unit Citation won by the 83rd as a group.

Additionally, Beinemann spoke of another type of innovation—the need to adapt his own sense of self-preservation and at times even his personal values to serve the greater good. He spoke of putting his head down and forging ahead when that was the most difficult thing to do, and of being selected to serve on a firing squad executing Germans spies. “It was difficult to kill someone who was not armed,” he lamented.

Kutney’s Core III class continued discussion of Beinemann’s presentation upon returning to the classroom after Spring Break. Differences of opinion surfaced regarding the degree of innovation that might have resulted had the circumstances been different.

Beinemann’s example of Army Engineers chopping trees to build a log road became a point of contention regarding subsequent generations. One part of the class contended that modern generations have become too soft to ever duplicate such a feat, while another answered that modern youth (Beinemann estimated the average age of his fellow troops to be 18 or 19) would rise to the challenge if it were to be presented. Some wondered if members of the World War II generation would have been so innovative had the need not been forced upon them by the war.

The question was deemed unanswerable, given the absence of actual experiences, but the class did agree on one point: The impending loss of the World War II generation will be a serious blow to our ability to make use of the lessons learned during that conflict, and we should be doing all we can to document individual stories while there is still time to do so.

A memoir titled “Military Experiences in World War Two” by Al Beinemann has been donated to Esch Library, where it is in the process of being included in the library’s general collection.