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Column: Of war and superstition

Posted: October 9, 2018 1:46 p.m.
Updated: October 9, 2018 1:45 p.m.

Every family has superstitions. Bill Beck’s was that every time you saw a white horse he licked two fingers and slapped his palm. This action was to bring you good luck.

Bill Beck grew up in Pleasant Hill, which is a suburb of Heath Springs -- or visa versa -- depending on who is speaking.

Seventy-five years ago, in the fall of 1943, Bill Beck was in England while serving as a bombardier with the Army Air Corp. There are a large number of white horses in Britain, so Bill Beck was doing a lot of licking and slapping and his friends began to tease him about his good luck superstition. He made the wrong decision to not do his ordeal the next day and that afternoon he found himself wounded and lying in a plowed  French field with a German soldier aiming his machine gun at him and informing him, “For you, the war is over.”

All G.I.’s had been trained,  that if they were ever captured, they were to give only their name, rank, and serial number. After his wound was treated, he was marched into a room and told to sit. A tall, 6-foot, 5-inch German officer came into the room and offered Bill Beck a cigarette. The tall Nazi was dressed in an immaculate black uniform and spoke perfect English.

He began by asking the 1st Lt. Beck questions concerning his mission, his unit, his commanders, the home base location and the name of his plane. He would also offer him a smoke, and the reply was always name, rank and serial number.
Finally, the German officer told the young airman to stay seated  and he rose and left the room. As he left, Bill Beck stole a couple of cigarettes.

When the German returned, he had a folder, which he opened and  read to the American his unit, his plane, his mission target, his home base, his previous missions -- and how long he had been in England. The info was 100 percent accurate and the Nazi asked Bill Beck if it was valid. The response was again name, rank, and serial number.

The German next read where and when Bill Beck had been trained in Arizona and Florida and gave the date when he entered the service. The information was perfect and when Bill Beck was asked to verify the info, he gave a much weaker name, rank, and serial number.

The tall Nazi then leaned forward and looked across the table at the young airmen and said that “my information says your home is Pleasant Hill, South Carolina, and that you are the son of Perry and Ruby Beckham.”

Before there was any reply, the German said, “I know where Pleasant Hill, South Carolina, is located.”

Bill Beck’s response was, “How in the Hades do you know where Pleasant Hill is?’’

The German’s then said that “I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina and while a student there I dated a girl at the University of South Carolina and I would stop and get gas in Pleasant Hill on my way to and from Columbia.”

Bill Beck then said, “Hey Beau; let’s smoke some of those Camels.”

Every white horse that comes into my vision creates a “lick and a slap.”

Thank you for your attention.

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