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WWII widow recalls her husband's service during Pearl Harbor attack

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- When Ruby Beck thinks about the battles her late husband, Master Sgt. Edward Beck, fought, two significant fronts come to mind.

One was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which took place 68 years ago today, while Beck was going through infantry training. The second battle is one Ruby and Edward waged together for more than a decade, seeking full disability benefits through the Veterans Administration that finally came though only months before Edward Beck died.

"Ed was disabled the last 11 years of his life," Ruby Beck, now 83, said of her late husband. "I had to go out and get a job to support us because the VA would not give him the full benefits that he earned.

"I'd work all morning, rush home during my lunch hour to change his bandages (resulting from surgery complications), then rush back to work the rest of the afternoon. We shouldn't have been put in that position, but there were some crooked people in charge of the VA office."

Edward Beck was assigned to the 21st Infantry unit at Schofield Barracks, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched their infamous attack on the U.S. Naval Base there. Beck and his fellow 21st Infantry trainees were issued live ammunition for the first time during the resulting chaos.

"One of the first things Ed told me they did was to camouflage a plane that was away from the base airfield," Ruby Beck said. "They covered it over with palm branches, and after the first wave of attacks, that plane was uncovered and sent out to battle the Japanese.

"Ed said the crew on that plane shot down three Japanese planes during the next phase of the attack. He and the others in his unit shot at the Japanese planes until the attack ended. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt."

Edward Beck was hurt in 1943, and he received a Purple Heart for the gunshot wound to his leg that he received at Guadalcanal on Jan. 20 of that year. He also received four Bronze Stars for valor during his World War II duty in the Pacific.

"They found the bullet in Ed's leg from 1943 when they did an autopsy on him," Ruby Beck said.

Beck also served during the Korean War in 1952-53 and 1957-58. On July 26, 1953, his regiment was attacked by Chinese forces in a three-minute firefight that would be the last action involving enemy contact before the effective date of the armistice that ended the conflict.

Ed and Ruby met in Americus when she was 13, but a short while later he lied about his age (17) and enlisted in 1940. He served during World War II and initially left the Army in June 1945. He eventually returned to service before retiring in 1963.

While Ed was serving his country, he received letters regularly from Ruby. When he came home in 1945, the next morning he was standing on her front porch.

"I'd sent him pictures and stayed in touch with him all during the war," Ruby Beck said. "When he got home, it was like we were already family."

A short while later, while Ed and Ruby sat on the front porch with her 3-year-old niece, he asked her to marry him. Before he returned briefly to active duty -- on May 20, 1945, Ruby's 19th birthday -- the two were married. They were married for 39 1/2 years, until he died on Dec. 9, 1984.

Edward Beck was later stationed with an MP detachment in Augusta; Anniston, Ala., and in Fort Jackson, S.C., before he left the Army for good in 1963. He worked as a prison security guard in South Carolina before moving to Cocoa Beach, Fla., to work security at the Kennedy Space Center.

But failing health forced Edward Beck to retire. When the Veterans Administration refused the disabled war hero full benefits, his wife went to work to support them. Their ongoing battle to obtain the benefits due them finally ended in 1982, only months before Edward Beck died.

"Even when they finally decided Ed was due full benefits, they only gave us one year's back pay," Ruby Beck said. "He was disabled the last 11 years of his life, but that's the kind of treatment he was given for what he gave to his country.

"They kept telling us they couldn't find Ed's records. Can you believe that?"

Ruby Beck now lives in a local retirement community and spends time with her and Ed's children -- John Ed, 63, who lives in Columbia, S.C., Jimmie, 62, of Wesley Chapel, Fla., and Suzanne, 59, who lives in Albany -- and their grandchildren.

"Ed served his country; he was a hero," Ruby Beck said. "He shouldn't have had to go through the hardships he did after he got home. That's something that hurt him, and I will never forget it."