Thursday, May 23, 2024

“What Memorial Day Means to Me”

Korean War Vet Shares His Feelings

94-year-old Lou de Beer reflects on his life, his military career, and the meaning of Memorial Day. Photo by Joe Ditler.

“Memorial Day can be summed up in one word, Remember,” said 92-year-old Marine veteran Lou de Beer. “I have seen generations come and go, and, sadly, the further we get from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, the less is remembered by the populace. That word, Remember, is very important.”

Lou de Beer was born Dec. 6, 1931, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He was only ten when the Germans marched into his city. It was the dawn of Nazi occupation and WWII. He recalls seeing tanks, armored vehicles, motorcycles, and truckloads of soldiers entering Dutch streets lined with a mix of greeters and stone-faced spectators. Meanwhile, German aircraft filled the sky above.

He and his family were American citizens, and at first were considered neutrals by the occupying German army. That was all about to change. Within 18 months, America had entered the war against Germany. Lou and his family were separated, and held as hostages, POWs, for three years before they were reunited in a prisoner exchange involving German civilian and military personnel held by the allies.

The de Beers arrived in Boston Harbor Christmas Eve, 1944. The family settled in New York, where Lou and his younger brother, Max, completed elementary and high school.

Lou and Max enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 1950s. “I chose the Marines over the Army because I liked the Marine Corps dress blues,” he said with a smile.

A very young Lou de Beer, upon entering the US Marines.

Lou completed boot camp at Parris Island, SC, and then transferred to Camp Pendleton, CA for infantry training. He actually participated in amphibious assault exercises on the beaches of Coronado before deployment.

Lou was sent to Korea, where he was assigned to the 1st Marine Infantry Division 1st Regiment, A-Company, overseeing 4.2-inch mortars.

Later he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment as a rifleman and field radio operator, taking part in the battles of Bunker Hill, Siberia, and others.

Lou de Beer, in Korea, sporting a lighter rifle, so as not to hinder him while carrying a heavy communications radio into battle.

Because he carried a radio on his back, he couldn’t use a standard M-1 rifle. Instead, he carried a much lighter carbine, or a 45 in a hip holster. That allowed him to navigate with the 30-pound radio while still being combat ready in the field.

There were more than 30,000 U.S. Marine Corps casualties in the Korean War (1950-1953). Lou cited extreme cold, frostbite, heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire as contributors to that high casualty rate. “I lost my younger brother in the Marine Corps. I lost many friends. I’m lucky to be alive.”

After returning to the United States, Lou joined the National Security Agency (NSA). He was awarded the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his work.

Now, 80 years after fleeing Nazi-occupied Holland, Lou is looking forward to honoring our many bygone veterans at the upcoming Memorial Day Services at Star Park, May 27.

“Memorial Day is recognized as a national holiday, that’s true. And while it’s not known as a ‘happy holiday,’ most people don’t really understand why we recognize this day, why it was founded, and what it commemorates.

“I think it’s great we set a day aside in our busy year to commemorate those who died for our country; whether they were drafted or enlisted, in combat or administration. Not just the lives that were lost, but those who were crippled for life, carry mental scars, or the loss of friends and loved ones.

“Yes, I will be at Star Park on Memorial Day, as I am every year, to remember those who didn’t come home, and those I served with.”

Lou has been honored as a recipient of the Coronado Avenue of Heroes Award, and Coronado Post 2422 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is proud to share his story leading up to Memorial Day ceremonies.

de Beer and the author, sharing stories of life in Coronado, pre-Coronado Bridge.

 



Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call [email protected], or (619) 742-1034.

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