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As sniper Beardsley was good at his work

By William Arthur, Army

Writing Type: Prose

By William Arthur

My grandfather, Howard Miles Beardsley, was a big man. He stood over six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds. So when he answered the "Uncle Sam Wants You" posters and went to enlist in The Great War," the recruiter in Anamosa, Iowa, asked him if he could run. "Well I'm not sure." Beardsley admitted, "but I've passed quite a few people who said they were running."

The Army took him at his word. They made him a sniper at a time when the average life expectancy of a sniper was between three and five hours.


Life in the infantry was basically catch-as-catch-can. The doughboys usually slept outside on the ground, regardless of the weather. Supplies were scarce and often delayed. This left them cold, wet and hungry most of the time.


Beardsley's unit once found an abandoned farmhouse. They were ravenous and searched it for something to eat. All they found was part of a carton of cottage cheese with a layer of mold on top. The other men wouldn't eat it, but Beardsley scraped the mold off and ate it himself.


Another time the men were thirsty and had no water. They came to a place where a horse had stepped. In the deep hoof mark stood stagnant water with green scum on top. None of the men would drink the water. But Beardsley scraped away the scum, filled his canteen, drank, and filled the canteen again. The next morning he woke to find the whole unit gathered around him. When he got up and proved the water hadn't killed him, the rest of the men finished the canteen.


The mission of the snipers was to go ahead of the main troops and clear out enemy snipers. As Beardsley's unit crossed a field one day, it was attacked by a lone German with a machine gun. He had climbed a tree and had a good vantage point to shoot from. Beardsley made a wide circle and came up in back of the German and killed him.


Beardsley was never injured during the war. But he had some close calls. One night he finished guard duty and woke a man to relieve him. Beardsley just got settled when he heard an incoming shell. He could tell that the shell was close, but he couldn't do anything so he just lay shivering. When he went to check on his relief, Beardsley found that the shell had blown him to bits.

Another time the unit had to cross an open field and needed to know if there were any Germans in the area. Beardsley supported his helmet on the end of his rifle and raised it from behind a rock. Enemy bullets riddled it.


Hand grenades were a new weapon at the time, and some of the German ones hadn't been perfected. Once a German threw a hand grenade at Beardsley, but it didn't go off. Beardsley picked up the grenade, and it exploded when he threw it back.


When the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, there were celebrations everywhere. Beardsley went to a dance with a buddy he had served with throughout the war. They had beaten the heavy odds against them and soon would be going home. Seldom were two men happier.  But at the dance, a drunk shot and killed Beardsley's friend.  As a result, during the rest of his life, he never went to a dance again.


He returned to Anamosa, got married and raised six children, including my mother, by working as a guard in a reformatory and doing some farming.


When World War II came and his sons wanted to enlist, he told them to join the Navy. "As long as your ship's afloat," Beardsley said, "you'll have a warm bed and hot food to eat."


In December 1944, with two sons in the Navy, Beardsley went downstairs one day to shovel coal into the furnace. Upstairs Grandmother heard the shovel drop and found her husband dead on the floor. His heart had stopped running.


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