Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Meet a few of Michigan's heroes from World War II

Following up on my posts about Michigan's connections to the Civil War and World War I, here are a few biographies of Michiganders who performed heroic deeds during World War II.

Joseph Beyrle

On June 6, 1944, Muskegon native Joseph Beyrle was piloting a C-47 aircraft over the French coast. It was D-Day, when thousands of Allied troops swarmed the beaches of Normandy in an attempt to wrest France from German control. Axis forces attacked Beyrle’s craft, and Beyrle was forced to jump his way to safety. He evaded German forces for a few days, but eventually was captured and imprisoned. He escaped several months later and fought alongside the Soviet Army (another member of the Allied forces) for a month before making his way to the American embassy in Moscow and returning home in April 1945. Beyrle’s service with the Soviets made him the only American soldier to serve in both the American and Russian armies during World War II. He died in 2004 at the age of 81 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

George Cannon

George Cannon was the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II, an award that, sadly, he died while earning. Cannon grew up in Detroit and graduated from the University of Michigan. He joined the Marines in 1938 and eventually became a first lieutenant. Not long after the United States entered the war, he saw action on Midway Island, an American holding in the Pacific Ocean that was a frequent target of Japanese offensives. On December 7, 1941, the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also launched an assault on Midway. During the encounter, a shell exploded near Cannon’s command post, seriously injuring him and several of his men. Cannon refused to leave until the other men had been taken to safety, and even after that, stayed at his post until other soldiers forcibly removed him. Cannon died from loss of blood, and was buried in Honolulu at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Francis Hammerberg

It was February 17, 1945, a few months before the end of World War II, and two Navy divers at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii were trying to tunnel under a vessel stuck in forty feet of water. Suddenly, the wreckage collapsed, trapping the men under a mass of steel. Francis Hammerberg, a boatswain’s mate second class who had been born in Daggett and had grown up in Flint, dove to the rescue. He freed one man and was helping the other when a second cave-in pinned Hammerberg on top of the trapped diver. The two were eventually rescued, but Hammerberg died from his injuries. The men he assisted survived. Hammerberg received the Medal of Honor for his bravery, and is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.


Nancy Harkness Love

Nancy Harkness Love could fly an airplane with the best of them. Born in Houghton, Love had taken to the skies as a teenager, and continued piloting into adulthood. Shortly after the United States entered World War II, she helped create the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, which, a few years later, became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). The organization gave non-combat flying tasks to female pilots, thereby freeing male Air Force pilots for battle. The women handled such duties as hauling artillery targets and delivering cargo. The WASP wasn’t officially part of the military, so its members had to wait several decades until the government, in 1977, recognized them as veterans. Unfortunately, Love wasn’t around to see that day. She had died a year earlier, in 1976, at the age of 62.

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