Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A World War II Memory From Pueblo, Colorado

When I saw a postcard on e-Bay written from the public relations office at the Pueblo Army Airfield in Colorado in 1944, I had to have it. I lived in Pueblo in 2007 – 2010 and worked for a contractor at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot, which evolved from that WWII installation.

Finding the person who wrote the card took some doing. The card was written by “Sgt. M. R. Beckes," and the signature was simply "M.R.B." The Army service number in the return address was illegible. Without a first name or service number I couldn’t find Sgt. Beckes in the National Archives online database of WWII soldiers. (When I finally located Sgt. Beckes’ record in the database the name was garbled and wouldn’t have revealed her anyway.) After wasting a lot of time looking for a man named "Beckes" I realized the service number started with the letter “A,” designating a member of the Women’s Army Corps.

After much searching on Google and Ancestry.com I figured out that the writer was Sgt. Miriam R. Beckes.  Born in 1899, she worked for newspapers in Ohio, including the Columbus Dispatch, prior to joining the Army in 1942. One of the people she worked with at the Dispatch was the noted author James Thurber, famous for his short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

The card was addressed to Lt. Ralph Yakel, Jr., at an address in Colorado Springs, about 35 miles from Pueblo. In the postcard Sgt. Beckes mentioned “your yellow-shuttered house.” It’s likely Lt. Yakel was stationed at one of several military bases in Colorado Springs and Miriam met him in the course of her duties. The photo side of the card depicts the Sand Dune National Monument in the lovely San Luis Valley of southern Colorado.

In the card she makes reference to going to the Broadmoor, a resort hotel in Colorado Springs, and running into the party of Ohio Governor John Bricker. The Broadmoor is near the address where Lt. Yakel lived. Miriam’s card said she went to school with Mrs. Bricker. Gov. Bricker was the Republican vice-presidential nominee, with Thomas Dewey at the head of the ticket, in 1944. They were sacrificial lambs for Franklin Roosevelt, who won the Electoral College 432 - 99.

After the war Miriam continued her journalism career and eventually settled in Seattle. She died in 1986, five days short of her 86th birthday. While living in Seattle she cared for her father, Rev. Dr. Cyrus Boyd Beckes, who died in 1965 at age 100.

Once I found Miriam’s name it was fairly easy to find a surviving relative. Rev. Beckes’ obituary listed a granddaughter, Sally Beckes Anderson, of Poulsbo, Washington, Miriam’s niece. I wrote to her, she gave me a call, we had a nice chat, and I sent her the postcard. Sally said Miriam enjoyed her time in the service and talked of meeting movie stars, including Clark Gable, who came through on USO tours.

Miriam was primarily a food writer. I found an article she wrote in the Columbus Dispatch in 1947 extolling the virtues of a new culinary wonder -- frozen meals.

Lt. Yakel went on to be a professor of economics at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and died in 1976 at age 72. The house where he lived at 25 Alsace Way in Colorado Springs is still there. I emailed my friend, Kate Snatchko, who lives nearby, and asked her to check it out. She reported that the house looks good, but if it had yellow shutters in 1944 they’ve been painted a different color.

During my time in Pueblo I worked with Marilyn Thompson, public affairs officer for the Army installation, now retired. I’ll have to let Marilyn know this bit of history about one of her predecessors in the Army’s public affairs office.

Columbus Dispatch, April 13, 1947

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