WWII vet returns bracelet ID to family of owner

Published 10:03 am Saturday, April 11, 2015

More than 70 years have passed, but a veteran of World War II has completed his mission. In 1945, after surviving a prisoner of war camp, Robert C. Geisert was taken to what he called a central location before being sent back to the United States.

In that site, the rescued POWs were asked to complete one final task. Items had been recovered from the former Nazi camps, and the brass wanted the soldiers to get those keepsakes back to family members. Skinny from the mistreatment, the Ohio native said one item called to him. It was a sterling silver bracelet engraved with the name and serial number of Ernest L. Beale Jr.

Geisert didn’t know Beale, but it turns out they had a lot in common.

Photographs of Ernest Beale, smaller to the left, and Geisert, along with the bracelet and a letter to Dorothy Beale from Lynne Shoupe, Geisert’s daughter.

Photographs of Ernest Beale, smaller to the left, and Geisert, along with the bracelet and a letter to Dorothy Beale from Lynne Shoupe, Geisert’s daughter.

Both flew B29 bombers, and both were shot down on a mission to Budapest, Hungary. The Eastern European country started out the war as a part of the Axis powers, but by 1944 had been occupied by Germany following secret armistice negotiations with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Geisert was shot down on July 14, 1944. It had been his second mission at the helm of the bomber. German fighter planes attacked during the air raid on Budapest and his plane, along with several others in the squadron, had been destroyed. He and eight other men escaped with their lives by bailing before the crash.

When Geisert hit the ground, he was alone, so he started walking in search of food, water and shelter. For six nights he walked. During the day he would hide wherever he could: in ditches, tall patches of grass, crops and in haystacks.

He never found any food, but he would collect moisture or dew from the plants in the morning.

After six days, Geisert found a village of people who took him in and gave him water and goat’s milk. Then they turned him over to the military police, and he was taken to the prisoner of war camp, where he would remain until the conclusion of the war.

Beale’s B29 air raid on Budapest happened a couple of months earlier on May 29. His plane was attacked by German fighters, but it was not downed. He managed to return to an Allied airfield in Italy.

Despite the return, Beale and others on the mission were grounded. They had been wounded during the attack, and would spend a time being treated before being assigned to headquarters for the rest of the war.

Beale would return to Franklin and later Richmond, where he would live out the rest of his life as an accountant and business manager. Beale died in 1971 at the age of 54 and was buried in the Poplar Spring Cemetery of Franklin.

After the war, Geisert also returned home to to his wife and two daughters in Oregon, Ohio. For decades, he attempted to return the bracelet but was unsuccessful.

Ernest L. Beale Jr. with his brother John “Jack” Beale.

Ernest L. Beale Jr. with his brother John “Jack” Beale.

Eventually, Geisert shared the burden of the sterling silver item with one of his daughters, Lynne C. Shoup, and then the coincidences continued to add up.

Nearing the end of 2014, Dorothy Beale just so happened to be at Franklin Christian Church for a luncheon when Shoup called. The secretary answered, but she didn’t know if Ernest Beale had ever been a member of the church. However, she did know a Dorothy Beale.

“A lady wants to know if you know E.L. Beale Jr.,” the secretary asked Beale.

She did — he was her brother-in-law. Beale took the number and wondered how in the world someone looking for Ernest had found her.

With the use of Internet archives, it was no accident that Shoup called the church on High Street. She started by searching for the name and discovered a plot in the Poplar Springs Cemetery for Ernest Linwood Beale Jr. She was even able to pull it up through a map app and get a look at the gravestones.

From there, Shoup located the obituary of Ella Jane Beale, who had been Ernest L. Beale’s grandmother. E.L. Jr. had been one of the pallbearers, along with John “Jack” Beale, Dorothy Beale’s late husband.

In the archived obituary, Shoup saw that Ella Jane had been a member of the Franklin Christian Church, and that she had also been buried in the Poplar Spring Cemetery. Beale’s father, Ernest L. Beale Sr., had been a deacon.

In truth, the grave that Shoup looked at online had actually been Dorothy Beale’s husband, but it made no difference. They’d found her, and she would gladly accept the bracelet.

After calling the number for Shoup, Beale had the family keepsake in her possession by December 2014.

“It took him 70 years to carry out his mission,” Beale said. “It just shows you what the Greatest Generation continues to do — they finish what they start.”