Until I received the picture below, I didn’t know old Jack was a paratrooper. My grandmother left me his purple heart when she passed away and it was one of the first items in my militaria collection. She received the medal from Jack Beatty’s mother when she and my grandfather visited her in California (this must have been in the early 1980s, I would guess).

Jack Beatty in class A dress uniform with staff sergeant’s stripes and the ‘Fighting 69th’ Infantry Division patch
His mother’s handwriting explaining the picture was taken before Jack joined the 513th PIR, 17th Airborne as a medic.

The provisional Margraten military cemetary

After the war, my grandmother adopted Jack Beatty’s grave at the Margraten American military cemetery and cared for it, as did many Dutch people. Jack Beatty’s mother gave her the purple heart to thank her for caring for his grave. I think they must have corresponded, but no letters were found. I remember my grandmother taking English lessons especially for the trip to the States.

Purple heart in presentation case displayed here with a medic’s brassard and a 17th Airborne patch

The photograph first turned up when my dad was going through my grandparents’ paperwork. He sent me a scan of it, but didn’t mention the writing on the back. So, I thought Jack Beatty was a staff sergeant with the 69th Infantry Division. I had no reason to think he had been anything else because my grandmother never told me any specifics about him, and I don’t think I asked. In fact, I didn’t even know his name until I got the medal. As these things go, I only started to wonder about it when it was too late to ask her. Apparently, his parents called him Jack, but the engraving on the medal is ‘John M. Beatty’. Until I got the photograph, I always figured he had been with one of the units of which I had gotten insignia from my grandfather (1st Army and the 2nd Armored Division). This made sense because both had seen action in the area from which casualties were interred at the Margraten cemetery. The medal was a cherished family piece and was not kept in the same box with all the other American and German insignia from which I was allowed to choose one every now and then when sleeping over at my grandparents. But really only ever so often, because I never did get to collect them all before they both passed away. After my grandmother passed away, I was given the remainder of the insignia and the purple heart. The medal was kept in its display case, which in turn was stored in its shipping carton. My grandmother must have kept it in her bedroom closet because the box still smells of her cologne after all those years.

Detail of the engraving at the back and the shipping carton with spare purple ribbon.

So I thought it all came together and I planned to pay a visit to Jack’s grave next time I visited Limburg. I knew his remains had been long since repatriated to the United States, but I still expected to find a cross with his name on it. But I didn’t. What happened? Did I mis-remember the family stories?

There are crosses of other Beatty’s at Margraten, but I soon realized none of them was his. In 2020 I got this beautiful book “The Faces of Margraten”, but his name does not appear in the index either. So, it was time to start digging to find out more.

Operation Varsity

I tried to find out just when Beatty joined the paratroops and when he arrived in Europe. The 17th Airborne saw action at the end of war during the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Varsity. This was the airborne operation to cross the Rhine in Germany. It was the largest single day airborne drop in history, even to date. From what is written on the back of the picture, Jack was killed at ‘Weasel’ (Wesel) by a German sniper on April 2 while caring for a wounded comrade. This was 9 days after the jump, as the 17th Airborne fought to take the city of Munster.

Digging into online archives

From the Los Angeles County CA Archives Military Records, I found the following details to aid my further research:
John M. Beatty, Army serial number 39227518 was born in Kansas in 1916 and enlisted as a private in the Army in Los Angeles on February 20, 1941.
Several other websites list him as killed in action and with the T/5 rank (Technician Fifth Grade), which is strange because this is a lower rank than on his portrait as a staff sergeant (T/3) in the 69th Infantry Division.
In the National Archives, the above details are confirmed and add that Jack had 4 years of high school education before joining the Army at age 24. It appears he worked between finishing school and enlistment. His civilian occupation is listed as ‘skilled occupations in manufacture of miscellaneous electrical equipment, n.e.c.’. He was single, without dependents.

The grave in the United States

Jack’s grave at Golden Gate National Cemetery

Further searching finally revealed that he does have a grave in the United States. His remains were returned from Margraten and interred at Golden Gate National Cemetery on October 25th 1945. That explains why there is no trace of a cross at Margraten. The grave my grandmother cared for must have been at the provisional military cemetery, which was created in November 1944. As the Ninth United States Army pushed into the Netherlands from France and Belgium, American casualties from the area, and also those that fell in Germany were buried here (as Americans could not be buried permanently in enemy territory). Within six months more than 10,000 American casualties were interred at the cemetery.

In the late 1940s the Americans started exhuming, repatriating and reburying fallen US service personnel from across the Netherlands. Over half the American dead were repatriated to the US with the rest re-interred in the expanded Margraten cemetery.

The current cemetery at Margraten was dedicated in 1960 and officially opened by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.

His gravestone also gives us his actual date of birth, August 25, 1916, and confirms the other details found online. The grave is located at San Bruno, San Mateo County, California, section C, site 828.

M is for Melberne

In the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, the WWII Draft Registration Cards for California, provide some more information about his family situation when Jack enlisted: We learn that the M stands for Melberne, and that his place of birth was Topeka, Kansas. The draft registration card below also lists his home address, the names of his parents and his employer at the time.

They lived on 3336 Farnsworth Avenue, in Los Angeles. As far as I can tell, the original house is no longer there, but it’s still a residential area.

His employer, O’Keefe & Merritt Co. was a manufacturer of stoves and heaters. The company is no longer in business. Some remaining buildings of the Los Angeles plant are still visible, although originally it covered several acres.

Jack was 5’7, which is about 170cm, so not very tall, and he had brown eyes and brown hair.

Jack’s draft registration card

I haven’t been able to find anything about his service history. What he was trained for (how he came to be medic), when he arrived in Europe, what units he was with and when. Since he enlisted so early, even before Pearl Harbor, I imagine he would have been sent to England in 1943 already.

From the 69th Infantry to the 17th Airborne division

Instead of starting from the 513th PIR angle, I tried to find out for how long he might have stayed with the 69th Infantry Division. The pictoral history of the division lists a John Beatty as KIA and a ‘Fighting 69th Infantry Division Association’ bulletin clearly mentions Jack as one of its fallen comrades. He is marked with Sv. 272. I don’t know what ‘Sv.’ stands for, but 272 must be the division’s 272d Infantry Regiment. There is no mention anywhere of a transfer, collaboration or ‘loan’ of men of the division to the 17th Airborne. Going by the following dates from division’s order of battle, this couldn’t have been until after the Battle of the Bulge. Interestingly, the 69th was activated only on May 15, 1943, well after Jack’s enlistment, so I wonder which division or other entity he was assigned to until then. The 69th arrived in the ETO at Winchester, Hampshire England on December 13, 1944 (D+234). They only arrived on the continent on January 26, 1945 and would enter combat on February 11, 1945. It seems that on February 7, 1945, the division was assigned to the V Corps, 1st Army. Maybe further research will reveal more about his service life, although it is likely that his service record was lost in the 1973 fire at the National Archives.

To me personally, his medal and picture are a constant reminder of the immense human sacrifice, more so than any other piece in my collection. If anyone can help me to find out more about Jack’s service life, or any other details, I would be most grateful.

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John M. Beatty’s Purple Heart — 2 Comments

  1. Wouter,

    As a Purple Heart recipient myself I really appreciate this story and what your Grandmother did to honor Jack Beatty’s monument / grave. Do you by chance also have his Purple Heart Certificate? The reason I ask is because I would be happy to help get Jack Beatty registered in the Purple Heart Hall of Honor here in the US in New York. I personally know the administrator. https://www.thepurpleheart.com/

    • Hi Ken, that sounds great, but I don’t have the certificate. Only his engraved name on the medal and the photo sent by his mother.
      When visiting the Margraten cemetery last year, I tried to locate his grave, but I only arrived shortly before closing time and only managed to find the grave of a John Beaty (with one T), also of the 69th Infantry Division. Maybe you can help me out with that?

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