Lifelong search for father, WWII vet ends in honors
Lifelong search for father, WWII vet ends in honors
CANTON, Ohio – It took nearly a lifetime for Rex Beach to discover what happened to his father, a World War II veteran who disappeared from his son’s life in 1954 when the boy was only 2.
Unfortunately, when Beach, 66, finally tracked him down, his father had been dead for 12 years, buried in a pauper’s grave outside Dallas.
But Beach said just finding his father has provided some closure, and the means of having the former soldier buried at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery with full military honors on January 10.
Beach’s odyssey for answers started back in 1954 when his parents, William and Helen Beach, living in Dayton, either separated or divorced.
The couple had married in 1949, after the war. He had been a member of the Army Air Forces who served in England. She was a Navy nurse.
In 1952, their son Rex was born. “On Halloween. That explains a lot about my life,” Beach quipped.
The trick in this treat came when his father simply disappeared two years later, after the separation.
Beach said his mother never said anything bad about his father, but never explained why they parted.
Growing up in Wheeling, West Virginia, he would ask his mother what happened, and never got an answer.
“I guess after you ask so many times, and she won’t say anything, it’s like why bother?” he said. “If I did, she’d kind-of get irritated.”
That didn’t stop Beach from wondering why his father had left.
He has an old photo of the two of them together, and said, “I could tell from the picture he loved me. He was happy for me, to have me.”
When asked what it was like growing up without a father, Beach said, “It was not very pleasant.”
He gave up hoping that his father would come back, and became extremely shy and withdrawn.
But, “I was never angry at him, or bitter, or whatever,” Beach said.
So he carried on with life, working and getting married in 1998 and raising two daughters.
Then came his own divorce in 2010, and Beach decided to get an answer to the questions that had plagued him all his life.
Why did his parents separate? Why did his father leave? Was he still alive?
He tapped the resources of Ancestry.com, hoping to find family relatives who could provide some clues. Few did.
But he found out that his father had worked at 86 jobs in 15 different states over the years.
Beach also discovered a surprise.
“Ironically enough, his father did the same thing to him,” Beach said.
His father grew up in Lima, Ohio, and his parents had a bitter divorce. “My dad was around 3 years old and his dad [also named William] left him and run off to Alaska, or somewhere, I heard,” Beach said.
He eventually tracked his father to Texas, then to the hospital where he had died of throat cancer.
“I was disappointed until talked to the Dallas County medical examiner, and then I got upset when I found out how he was treated after he died,” Beach said.
Because the veteran apparently had no friends or relatives that officials were aware of, “they treated him like a homeless person,” according to Beach.
He said his father was buried in a body bag, in a concrete enclosure, marked by only a spike topped with a case number.
“He deserves better than that, just for the fact that he’s a veteran, let alone that fact that he’s a father,” he added.
Beach wanted his father’s remains exhumed and taken to the Ohio Western Reserve Cemetery where his mother is buried.
But the state of Ohio and veterans groups that Beach contacted couldn’t help with the cost of the move.
It took seven years before he could improve his credit rating enough to get a $10,000 loan to do it himself.
Another problem was official documentation of his father’s military service.
Beach turned to Sen. Sherrod Brown who secured the necessary military certification to get the veteran buried in a national cemetery.
A statement by Sen. Brown issued by his office stated: “Too often, veterans pass away without a proper burial or the recognition they deserve. When Mr. Beach approached our office asking for help to honor his late father, a World War II veteran, our office sought to help in any way we could, as we do with all constituents who contact our office. Mr. Beach’s efforts to honor his late father are commendable, and I’m glad we’re close to a positive outcome.”
Beach said Brown’s office also was able to expedite shipment of the remains, and told him that a flag will be flown over the capital and presented to him in his father’s honor.
After hearing about the flag, Beach said, “It took me like half an hour before I could go back to work because I couldn’t stop crying. Just to think that my father could go from being thrown away like a piece of trash and forgotten about, to being a service escorted by Patriot Guard riders, having somebody as famous as a senator who would actually care enough about him, that he never knew, to do all that for him, it’s kind of overwhelming.”
When asked how it feels now that his quest has almost ended, Beach said when a loved one dies, it’s like your heart is a puzzle with one piece missing.
Most people have memories to fill that space.
“But in some cases like mine, where the person you loved or loved you just vanishes . . . there are no memories to fill that.”
He continued, “One of the things people kind-of wonder is why are you going into debt to try to do this for your father when he left you, he never came back, he was never there for you, you never knew him.
“I said well, he never knew it but my father taught me a very important life lesson, which was when it came my turn to be divorced, I knew from my own experience what happens to a child when their father leaves and never comes back, and it’s not pretty,” he added.
“So when it came time for me, I said no, I’m not backing off and running away. I just wasn’t going to let that happen to my daughters.”
As a child, Beach loved science fiction, particularly the concept of time travel.
He said that even if he could go back in time, he probably couldn’t fix things between his parents.
However, one thing “I wish I could do is go back in time to August 6, 1999, right before my father died and hold his hand and tell him I love him,” Beach said.
“Because he died alone. There was no one there at all, from what I understand,” he added.
“I guess sounds kind-of strange nowadays.”
Calling hours for William Beach will be Jan. 10 from 11-12, and services at 12 p.m. at the First Church of the Nazarene, 522 30th Street NW, in Canton.
Burial will be at 2 p.m. at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery, 10175 Rawiga Road, in Seville.