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Joseph Beyrle

Joseph Beyrle
Beyrle in Ramsbury, 1943
Nickname(s)"Jumpin' Joe"
Born(1923-08-25)August 25, 1923
Muskegon, Michigan, U.S.
DiedDecember 12, 2004(2004-12-12) (aged 81)
Toccoa, Georgia, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Red Army
Years of service1942–1945
RankStaff Sergeant
Unit 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
1st Battalion, 1st Guards Tank Brigade, Red Army
Battles/warsWorld War II
Spouse(s)JoAnne Hollowell
Children3 including John

Joseph R. Beyrle (pron. BYE-er-lee)(Russian: Джозеф Вильямович Байерли; romanized: Dzhozef Vilyamovich Bayyerli; August 25, 1923 – December 12, 2004) is the only known American soldier to have served in combat with both the United States Army and the Soviet Red Army in World War II. He took part in Mission Albany, the airborne landings of the 101st Airborne Division on June 5–6, 1944, as a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was captured by the Germans and sent east as a prisoner of war.

After several unsuccessful attempts, Beyrle escaped from the German Stalag III-C in January 1945 and joined a Soviet tank battalion under the command of Aleksandra Samusenko.[1] Wounded, he was evacuated and eventually made his way to the United States in April 1945. Beyrle died in 2004 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His son John Beyrle later became United States Ambassador to Russia.

Early life

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Joseph Beyrle was the third of seven children born to William and Elizabeth Beyrle, whose parents had come to America from Germany in the 1800s. He was six years old when the Great Depression struck; his father, a factory worker, lost his job. The family was evicted from their home and was forced to move in with Joseph's grandmother. Some of his earliest memories, Beyrle later told his children, were of standing in government food lines with his father. His two older brothers dropped out of high school and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, an unemployment work-relief program, sending home enough money to allow the rest of the family to stay together. His older sister died of scarlet fever at age 16.

US Army

Upon his enlistment, Beyrle volunteered to become a paratrooper, and after completing basic airborne infantry training at Camp Toccoa he was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, the "Screaming Eagles". Beyrle specialized in radio communications and demolition, and was first stationed in Ramsbury, England, to prepare for the upcoming Allied invasion from the west. After nine months of training, Beyrle completed two missions in occupied France in April and May 1944, delivering gold to the French Resistance.[2]

On 6 June, D-Day, Beyrle's C-47 came under enemy fire over the Normandy coast, and he was forced to jump from the exceedingly low altitude of 360 feet (110 meters). After landing in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, Sergeant Beyrle lost contact with his fellow paratroopers, but succeeded in blowing up a power station.[2] He performed other sabotage missions before being captured by German soldiers a few days later.[3]

Prisoner of war

Beyrle as a POW, fall 1944

Over the next seven months, Beyrle was held in seven German prisons. He escaped twice, and was both times recaptured. Beyrle and his fellow prisoners had been hoping to find the Red Army, which was a short distance away. After the second escape (in which he and his companions set out for Poland but boarded a train to Berlin by mistake), Beyrle was turned over to the Gestapo by a German civilian.[4] Beaten and tortured, he was released to the German military after officials stepped in and determined that the Gestapo had no jurisdiction over prisoners of war. The Gestapo were about to shoot Beyrle and his comrades, claiming that he was an American spy who had parachuted into Berlin.

Beyrle was taken to the Stalag III-C POW camp in Alt Drewitz, from which he escaped in early January 1945.[4] He headed east, hoping to meet up with the Soviet army. Encountering a Soviet tank brigade in the middle of January, he raised his hands, holding a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, and shouted in Russian, 'Amerikansky tovarishch! ("American comrade!"). Beyrle was eventually able to persuade the battalion's commander (Aleksandra Samusenko, reportedly the only female tank officer of that rank in the war) to allow him to fight alongside the unit on its way to Berlin.[4] Beyrle began a month-long stint in a Soviet tank battalion, where his demolitions expertise was appreciated.

Soviet Army

Beyrle's new battalion was the one that freed his former camp, Stalag III-C, at the end of January, but in the first week of February, he was wounded during an attack by German dive bombers. He was evacuated to a Soviet hospital in Landsberg an der Warthe (now Gorzów Wielkopolski in Poland), where he received a visit from Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who, intrigued by the only non-Soviet in the hospital, learned his story through an interpreter, and provided Beyrle with official papers in order to rejoin American forces.[5]

Joining a Soviet military convoy, Beyrle arrived at the U.S. embassy in Moscow in February 1945, only to learn that he had been reported by the U.S. War Department as killed in action on June 10, 1944, in France. A funeral mass had been held in his honor in Muskegon, and his obituary was published in the local newspaper. Embassy officers in Moscow, unsure of his bona fides, placed him under Marine guard in the Metropol Hotel until his identity was established through his fingerprints.[4]


Beyrle returned home to Michigan on April 21, 1945, and celebrated V-E Day two weeks later in Chicago. He was married to JoAnne Hollowell in 1946 in the same church and by the same priest who had held his funeral mass two years earlier.[6] Beyrle worked for Brunswick Corporation for 28 years, retiring as a shipping supervisor.

His unique service earned him medals from U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House marking the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994.[7]

Death and legacy

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Joe Beyrle's gravesite

Beyrle died in his sleep of heart failure on December 12, 2004, during a visit to Toccoa, Georgia, where he had trained as a paratrooper in 1942. He was 81. He was buried with honors in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery in April, 2005.

Beyrle and his wife JoAnne had a daughter, Julie, and two sons. The elder son, Joe Beyrle II, served in the 101st Airborne during the Vietnam War. His son John Beyrle served as the United States Ambassador to Russia 2008–2012.

On September 17, 2002, a book by Thomas Taylor about Beyrle, The Simple Sounds of Freedom, was published by Random House. A Ballantine paperback version, Behind Hitler's Lines, came out June 1, 2004.

In 2005, a plaque was unveiled on the wall of the church in Saint-Côme-du-Mont, France, where Beyrle landed on June 6, 1944. A permanent plaque was dedicated at the site on July 5, 2014.[8]

An exhibition devoted to Joe Beyrle's life and wartime experiences was shown in Moscow and three other Russian cities in 2010.[9] The exhibition opened a four-city American tour at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, with showings in Toccoa and Omaha in 2011, and Beyrle's hometown of Muskegon in June 2012. A permanent installation of the exhibition is now on display at the USS Silversides Museum in Muskegon.

Awards and decorations

Combat Infantryman Badge
Parachutist Badge with one Combat Jump Star
Bronze Star
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Purple Heart with four Oak Leaf Clusters
Prisoner of War Medal
Army Good Conduct Medal
American Campaign Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 Service Stars and Arrowhead Device
World War II Victory Medal
Croix de Guerre (France)
Order of the Red Banner
Order of the Red Star[10]
Medal "For the Liberation of Warsaw"
Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
Medal of Zhukov[11]
Jubilee Medal "50 Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"[11]


  1. ^ "Красноармеец из американского штата Мичиган". Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  2. ^ a b "D-Day vets remember 'Jumpin' Joe' Beyrle". Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  3. ^ Taylor, Thomas H. (2004). Behind Hitler's Lines The True Story of the Only Soldier to Fight for Both America and the Soviet Union in World War II. Random House. ISBN 9780891418450. Retrieved December 15, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Woo, Elaine (December 16, 2004). "Joe Beyrle, 81; Fought for U.S. and Soviets in World War II". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ "In World War II, He Fought For Two Armies". Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  6. ^ Taylor, Thomas H., The Simple Sounds of Freedom, Random House, 2002, p. 310
  7. ^ Gallagher, James P. "VETERAN LIVES TO SEE FORMER ALLIES BECOME FRIENDS". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  8. ^ Normandy: 70th Anniversary D-Day events May-August 2014, The Washington Times Communities, December 15, 2013
  9. ^ "Celebrating 'Jumpin Joe' Beyrle and Russia-USA cooperation on the 65th anniversary of V-E day". 12 July 2015. Archived from the original on 1 July 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2015.
  10. ^ "In World War II, He Fought For Two Armies".
  11. ^ a b Titova, Irina, Associated Press Writer (18 February 2010). "Russian museum honors US WWII vet". San Diego Union Tribune.((cite news)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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Joseph Beyrle
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