World War II Veterans



Harry Beeman was 19 years old when he signed up as an Apprentice Seaman in the U.S. Navy the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Prior to that date Beeman’s father had refused to allow his son to enlist, despite his fervent desire to do so.  Beeman served four years on the USS Ellet, a small destroyer that survived ten major battles during the Pacific War, including the Battle of Midway in which the Ellet was one of the lead ships.  During the course of the war Beeman was promoted to 3rd Gunner, 2nd Gunner’s Mate then Gunner’s Mate First Class.  After retiring from his career as a firefighter in Indianapolis, Beeman retired to Cape Coral, Florida where he continues to live with his wife.WATCH/LISTEN


NEWTON BURDICK JR. (1916-2015)

Newton Burdick signed up for the U.S. Navy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Initially, he was stationed in Louisiana as the Communications Officer for the Eighth Naval District in New Orleans.  In response to the crisis in the Caribbean, the Navy had built 1,000 small destroyers to protect American ships targeted by the German U-boats lurking up and down the Atlantic coast.  More ships were sunk in the Caribbean than in any other area during the war years.  Burdick became the Executive Officer of one of those destroyers, escorting US ships between Guantanamo Bay and Panama.  A year later, Burdick was assigned to the USS Titania in Gamadodo, New Guinea, where his skills at mapping coastlines helped guide many of the invasions led by General MacArthur against the Japanese in the Pacific, including the Battle of Midway. Lieutenant Commander Burdick was present at the signing of the surrender of Japan on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.WATCH/LISTEN


PETER THOMAS (1924-2016)

Famed voice-over actor and World War II veteran, Peter Thomas received five battle stars including the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the French Croix de Guerre for his military service with the First Infantry Division in Europe.  After graduating from high school in 1943, he joined the army and was one of 28 replacements sent to Omaha Beach the day after D-Day.  The life-altering experience gave him a deeper appreciation for fellow soldiers, his country, and freedom.  Thomas, who has lived in Naples for many years, served in five major campaigns including the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.WATCH/LISTEN

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Grace Chicken wanted to see the world.  As a young woman, her ambition was to be a nurse in the war, so she joined the Red Cross and was stationed in Joplin, Missouri.  When she heard that the Air Force was looking for nurses, she enlisted to train as an Army Air Force Specialized Flight Nurse, and was sent to Bowman Field Kentucky.  Her first posting was to Newfoundland, Canada, and from there she went on to be stationed in the Azores, a country that was neutral during WWII.  Injured US military personnel were flown to the Azores from other arenas, such as Europe, Asia and Africa.  From the Azores, the Aerovac teams would fly the patients back to the United States for treatment.  After VE Day, Chicken was sent to Hawaii and from there they flew to all the small Pacific Islands picking up wounded Americans along the way.  She was on the second US plane to arrive in Japan after the surrender.  After the war, Chicken went back to school on the GI Bill and then enlisted to serve in Korea.WATCH/LISTEN

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Bob Hilliard enlisted in the US Army at age 18 and was assigned as a private to the 36th Infantry Division in Camp Blanding, Florida.  He was then deployed to Europe, arriving there just after D-Day.  He participated in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.  He was wounded several times during his term of duty and he received a Purple Heart Medal.  Eventually due to his wounds, he was sent to the 2nd Air Disarmament Division in Germany, assigned to capture German equipment.  He remained there for the duration of his term.  After a short stint working as the division’s German translator, he was asked to start an Army Newspaper.  His first assignment was to cover a concert being performed by concentration camp survivors at a nearby makeshift hospital located in a monastery, called St. Ottilien. What he discovered was so horrific, it changed everything for him. WATCH/LISTEN


Author: Anna Bejerano