Beyersdorf
Beyersdorf

When Robert “Bob” Beyersdorf graduated Menominee High School in 1939, little did he suspect he would have a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Marine Corps, a career that measured 28 years, one month and two days. And in those nearly three decades of military service, he served in three wars and pulled ceremonial duty at our nation’s most precious grounds for servicemen and women — Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C.

America was in her worst economic depression when Beyersdorf completed his high school education and the future was bleak for young men and women hoping to find employment. Families had limited opportunities to finance a college education for their children, college scholarships were scarce and student loans hadn’t been born yet.

Finding a job, any kind of job, was the goal of most high school graduates and those that dropped out of school.

The Great Depression of the 1930s, a decades-long period of unrest and economic suffering for families, was one of the bleakest periods in America’s history.

“I sat on a wooden bench outside the J.W. Wells Lumber Co., one of Menominee’s largest employers at the time, and hoped someone wouldn’t show up for work,” said Bob while tracing some of the footsteps in his life in his cozy apartment at Harbors Retirement Community where he has resided since the Harbors opened 10 years ago. “If a person didn’t show up for work, he was fired and it meant there was an opening for one of us on the bench,” he explained.

“We were paid 28 cents an hour, but it was a job,” he added.

One of Bob’s favorite classes at Menominee High School was printing. The printing department stamped out one of the best reputations in any area school district when it came to seeking full-time employment in post-graduate years.

He thought he would put his love for printing to use and went to work as a linotype operator at a small weekly newspaper in Watertown, Wisconsin. His pay was $8 week, but he had to pay $3 a week for his room and board and the balance didn’t leave him with much of a future. He went to Milwaukee and landed a job setting up tombstones at a cemetery. The job paid better, but it wasn’t something Bob wanted to do for the rest of his working life.

He joined the Marine Corps in 1940 and took his recruit training at the massive San Diego, California, training base. It was the beginning of his lengthy career as a Leatherneck in one of the nation’s most respected fighting branches during war.

Following recruit training, he was assigned duty in the Samoa Islands in February 1941. On Dec. 7, 1941, World War II broke out. Bob was returned to the United States in 1943 and become a member of a tank unit. He landed with the 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division on the Marshall Islands at Iwo Jima.

Now 98 years old, he still remembers the fire power from Navy ships and aircraft shelling the shore and island before the Marines stormed ashore and established a beachhead.

“It was quite explosive,” recalled Bob. “It was like all hell broke loose. We were looking up at it as the shelling continued and we saw the shells passing overhead.”

Beyersdorf was in two major battles in WWII, three in the Korean War and two in the Vietnam War.

“The skirmish at the Punch Bowl in Korea and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam were major conflicts the marine from Menominee was engaged in,” he noted.

When not fighting in wars, Bob was stationed at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., for three years. He was with the ceremonial platoon for burials in Arlington Cemetery, color guards and security where various events were conducted.

He also headed a four-man crew tasked with the job of getting the “bugs” out of a new mobile, heavy fire power support weapon — “the Ontos” — ready for combat firing tests and operating mobility tests at the Army Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland, and Quantico, Virginia. A training manual and film followed. Then the vehicles were delivered to various bases for more instructions.

Before his glittering career had ended, Bob attained the rank of sergeant major, the highest non-commissioned rank in the Marine Corps. A humble person, Bob admitted he must have been a “good soldier’’ after this writer spotted a notation on his military records where he was awarded the Good Conduct Medal seven times.

America will celebrate Veterans Day on Monday. It’s a day to honor all veterans who served in the military in war or peace.

The retired marine fulfills the true meaning of a veteran. In the three wars in which he was engaged, a combined 372,730 U.S. military personnel were killed in combat: 127,452 others died from various non-combat causes, and 867,533 were wounded.

Discharged in 1968, Beyersdorf and his wife of 58 years, Margaret, resided in Menominee for 22 years, then lived in Florida for 10 years before returning to his roots in Menominee. His wife, who Bob says was a special person, died in 2006.

He participated in regular swimming exercises at the Menominee YMCA until he was age 92. He also enjoyed fishing. He continues to have a liking to card playing and it doesn’t matter the game of cards. He turns 99 Jan. 12.

Once a Marine, always a Marine. Semper Fidelis, meaning “Always Faithful’’ is the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps. Robert “Bob’’ Beyersdorf proudly carried the Marine tradition through life.

This regular column will be published on the Boomers&Beyond Page, which runs Thursdays in the EagleHerald. This column was penned by Larry Ebsch.