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USA & RUSSIA UNITE: Muskegon veteran honored for 'James Bond-like' exploits during WWII

Joseph Beyrle's World War II tales are straight out of an espionage spy novel, except they're far from fiction. On July 6, Muskegon honored one of its own.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Tuesday, July 6 is "Joe Beyrle Day" in Muskegon, Mich.

There's likely many reading this asking, "Who's Joe Beyrle?"

This early in the read, I will share that he was born and raised in Muskegon, and six months after the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army.

Mr. Beyrle's war exploits after that are straight out of a spy novel, except every single detail is the stone-cold truth, yet beyond believable. 

"You need to be able to know veterans' stories in order to honor them," said Peggy Maniates, who is the executive director of the USS Silversides Museum, where Beyrle has a display. "[Joe Beyrle's] is one extraordinary story."

Beyrle was a fearless soldier and paratrooper who only thought about fighting for America's freedom. Most of the things he did and was ultimately able to pull off during WWII would make fictional espionage icons like James Bond blush.

"He simply had the wherewithal to be able to continue when others would have given up," Peggy said.

Early in the war, as a 20-year-old, Beyrle was given orders to jump out of a plane into France and deliver gold to the resistance. 

"After doing that, he had to sneak out of enemy territory without getting killed," Peggy said. "He did it twice."

Once Beyrle found his way to safety, he wasn't given any time to decompress. He was immediately told to drop from the air into France again, but this time, "Make it easier for your fellow soldiers to be able to cross into Normandy."

So, a few days before D-Day, Beyrle did just that, but he would eventually become a prisoner of war (POW), but would escape and get caught twice.

"He wanted to fight," Peggy said. "He knew being an able-bodied soldier sitting in a war camp wasn't helping."

Beyrle would escape a third time, and this time make it out without being caught. 

He'd eventually meet up with an ally - the Russian Red Army.

"[The Russians] were driving a Sherman Tank that was given to them from the United States," Peggy said. "Joe Beyrle knew everything about the Sherman Tank so they needed him to help take out the Nazis.

"He'd also go back to the POW camp he escaped from, and liberated his fellow soldiers."

Beyrle would eventually get injured and as sent to a Russian medical hospital where they declared him dead.

"The United States War Department sent Joe's parents a telegram stating he had died in active duty," Peggy said. 

A funeral was held for Beyrle at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in downtown Muskegon, but several weeks later, it was realized he didn't die.

"He was a prisoner of war, again," Peggy said. "He proved he was alive and was able to escape and make it back to Muskegon."

In a stunning twist of irony, exactly two years to the day that Joe Beyrle had "resurrected from the dead," he got married in the same church he was buried in, and the same priest who officiated his funeral, performed his wedding.

"This story is improbable and unbelievable," said John Beyrle, who is Joe Beyrle's son. "When I first heard the story, I thought it was a fairy tale, but later learned it wasn't."

Not only is John Beyrle Joe's son, he also ironically served as the United States' Ambassador to Russia from 2008-2012.

"As an ambassador, you get to meet with higher-up people sooner than later," said John. "In my case, it was sooner because they wanted to hear more about my dad."

John had a chance to have a face-to-face conversation with Vladimir Putin, when he was ambassador

"I was introduced to Putin and he said to me, 'Are you the one whose father fought in the Soviet Army?' And I said, 'Yes, that's me.' And Putin replied, 'That's an amazing story, and we thank your father for that,'" said John.

John says he hopes the story reaches both Putin and United States President Joe Biden and helps them realize there is a path to reconciliation

"The Russian people today who don't really buy the whole anti-American, anti-western push from the Kremlin, they want to honor [my father]," said John. "They want to honor [my father]; they want to celebrate him as a symbol of cooperation between America and Russia that once existed, and that they would like to see happen again."

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