Richard Beaber paid a German POW a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes to paint a portrait of his wife, Betty Mason of Perry County
NEW PHILADELPHIA ‒ A painting done by a German POW during World War II has long served as a reminder of the love that Richard Beaber had for his wife, Betty.
Beaber, a military policeman guarding prisoners of war in the United States during World War II, paid the German, who had been captured in North Africa in 1943, a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes to paint a portrait of Betty using a photo Richard had of her. It was painted on a piece of canvas cut from an Army cot. It took the soldier two weeks to complete it.
The painting hung for many years over the couch in the living room of the Beaber home on the south side of New Philadelphia. It remains in the family today.
Beaber died Nov. 5 at age 101.
Grew up in New Philadelphia
He was born Dec. 23, 1921, on the family farm in Oldtown Valley, the son of Virgil and Alice Beaber. The family later moved to New Philadelphia, where he graduated from high school in 1939.
During the summer of 1939, he worked at Harry Clever Field in New Philadelphia, doing general maintenance. He met John Glenn while working there. He then attended the Burgard Vocational School in Buffalo, N.Y., to learn how to construct airplanes. That led to his job working at the Curtiss Wright Corp. Airplane Division in Columbus.
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It was there that he met Betty L. Mason, a native of Corning in Perry County, who also worked at the plant. Richard was Betty’s boss. They became engaged in 1942.
He enlisted in the Army on March 27, 1943, and he and Betty were married on a weekend furlough on March 5, 1944.
Because he had taken two years of German at New Philadelphia High School, Beaber was immediately put into training as a translator and MP for the Army. He completed that training and spent the rest of the war in the states transporting and guarding German prisoners of war.
On his first trip across the country by train with other soldiers, they stopped at Boston Harbor to pick up the first load of German POWS that had been captured in North Africa. Beaber witnessed a number of Germans jumping off the ship into Boston Harbor and drowning. The surviving soldiers said they had been told by the Nazis that they would be executed when they got to the United States, so they decided to kill themselves.
The troop trains carried German, Austrian, Italian and Russian prisoners back and forth across the country for the next three years until late 1946, when the remaining POWs were repatriated. There were more than 700 camps in the United States and Richard Beaber went to many of them.
On one memorable trip early in the war, his train stopped at the Dennison Depot. Beaber was guarding a load of prisoners, but he was allowed off the train for 15 minutes to get a snack and coffee at the Servicemen’s Canteen, run by the Salvation Army. His mother happened to be working that day. He got to give her a hug, grab a sandwich and got back on the train.
Beaber was discharged from the Army on April 13, 1946.
Working at the family business
Back home in New Philadelphia, he went to work at the family business, Beaber IGA. He worked there from 1946 to 1966, when he started his own grocery store, Dick’s IGA on East High Avenue. He operated that store until 1975.
Richard and Betty had three children, Jeff, Patty (Burson) and Sherie (Reese). Patty and Sherie live in New Philadelphia. Jeff lives in Hampton, Va.
They have fond memories of him. “He was a sweetheart of a guy, just so kind and sweet. You never heard him raise his voice,” said Patty.
Added Sherie, “He had a dry sense of humor. He was funny. He would say something out of the blue, you’d think, oh my gosh.”
Beaber loved gardening, photography and watching football on TV, especially the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State.
‘She was a sweet lady’
Betty died of cancer in 1965. She was a good cook, made her family’s clothes, liked to play bridge, go square dancing and was an active member of Broadway Methodist Church.
“She kept us in line and kept food on our plate and our clothes were nice. She was a good mom, and all the neighbors loved her,” Patty said.
“She was a sweet lady,” said Sherie. “I was 11 when she died so I don’t have as many memories as I wish I had.”
Richard came from a family whose members live a long time. One brother, Glenn, is 99, and another, Jerry, will turn 96 in December. Both Glenn and Jerry are World War II veterans. Glenn was an Air Force bombardier and Jerry was in the Navy. Two cousins also served in the war, one of whom died.
Times-Reporter writer Jon Baker contributed to this report.
Brad Hillyer is an attorney in Uhrichsville who retired in January as judge in Tuscarawas County Court/Southern District, serving 22 years on the bench.