“Beaver” Radebaugh of Eagle Point mobile home park south of Punta Gorda, Fla.. was a little guy, not much more than five feet tall. He was just the right height to be a Sherman tank driver, part of the 3rd Armored Division that spearheaded Gen. Omar Bradley’s 1st Army through Belgium, across the Rhine River and into Germany during the closing months of World War II.
He was drafted into the Army right out of high school. He was 18 at the time in 1944.
“I was no war hero,” he admitted recently. “I never killed anybody.”
“When I arrived at our unit I took the place of a driver who who had just been killed. I became the tank crew’s new driver.”
“Beaver” drove his tank over a pontoon bridge after the Ludendorff Bridge, spanning the Rhine River at Remagen, collapsed. When it fell it was the only bridge left standing into the “Fatherland,” Once in Germany his armored division took part in the Battle of the Ruhr that began March 7, 1945.
“It was called the “Ruhr Rose Pocket,” the 89-year-old former tanker recalled 70 years later. “The action was named for Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, our division command, killed by a German tank commander during the battle.”
The 3rd Armored Division, of which “Beaver’s” tank was a part, lead a pincer movement — part of Gen. Bradley’s 12th Army Group. They encircled the German’s Army Group B trapping 430,000 Wehrmacht soldiers, many of whom surrendered to Allied forces.
“We advanced 100 miles in our tanks in one day surrounding the German troops,” “Beaver” recalled. “It was the biggest one-day advance of American armored forces in the second World War.”
It was the final weeks of the war in Europe. American, Canadian and British forces were pounding what was left of Hitler’s troops. By mid-April the “Ruhr Pocket” and the encircled Germans were compressed to a few square miles. The fighting finally stopped in this area on April 21, 1945.
“By then we were 15 miles from Berlin when the shooting ceased,” “Beaver” said. “We were happy we didn’t have to take Berlin.”
When V-E Day (Victory in Europe) arrived he became part of the occupation troops in Germany. A short time after the fighting stopped in Europe he volunteered to become a member of a motorcycle escort platoon after transferring to the 7th Armored Division.
“I rode my Harley Davidson-45 motorcycle all over Germany. It was good duty,” “Beaver” recalled with a smile. “We escorted high-ranking dignitaries throughout Germany. We escorted Harry Truman and Gen. Eisenhower in a parade on one occasion.”
At one point during the occupation he ran into a couple of Polish girls who saw his shoulder patch— “Spearhead Division.”
“You liberated our labor camp,” the teenagers told him.
“The two little Polish girls were working with German ammunition at the camp. They said most of the time they were fed potato soup. This one day they got meat in their potato soup and the slave laborers in the camp were all trying to get more of the soup with the meat.
“‘We were too small and too weak to get seconds. But when they got down to the bottom of the soup kettle we were glad we didn’t. They found the feet and tail of rats in the bottom of the kettle. When we realized what we had eaten we were happy we didn’t get that second bowl of soup,’ the Polish girls told us.”
“Stuff like this happened when I was in the Army,” ‘Beaver’ said.
At one point he was living in a bombed out hotel with no windows. For diversion they played a lot of ping-pong.
“Mike Dluka was the ping-pong champion in our outfit. He beat all of us,” “Beaver” said. “One day while Mike was playing ping-pong the ball went out the window and a little school girl with a pack on her back walking by threw the ball back in the window.
“Mike told the little girl, ‘Honey, you’re the next one I’m gonna play.’ He invited her in and that little girl beat him 21-0. After she won she put her back pack back on and left.
“Stuff like that happened when I was in the service.”
“Beaver” got word he was supposed to drive his tank to the Mediterranean after being in the occupation troops in Germany for more than a year. He and his tank were being sent to the war in the Pacific.
“I never made it because I lost oil pressure and I had to call a maintenance crew to get my tank going again. They arrived two days later and by the time they showed up they told us, ‘It’s all over. We dropped some kind of big bomb on the Japs and it’s all over.’”
When he returned by ship to New York City he ended up at Fort Meade, Md. where he was discharged from the Army.
“Beaver” took the G.I. Bill and graduated from Lincoln Welding School in Toledo, Ohio. Across the street from the school was a grass-strip airport. In his spare time he took flying lessons from the airport owner in a J-3 Piper Cub and got his pilot’s license. Afterwords “Beaver” went to work part-time for the airport owner doing all kinds of odd jobs in addition to taking people on flights from time-to-time.
Eventually the fellow who owned the grass strip sold it to the heir to the Champion Spark Plug fortune. The new owner thought “Beaver” was a pilot with a commercial pilot license. He took the test for his commercial license and passed. He quit his welding job and became a full time aviator.
One weekend “Beaver” flew Herb Hamilton and his five kids to the Bahamas. While there he did such a good job of babysitting the man’s children that he hired him to be his full-time pilot. Hamilton had made a fortune building fertilizer factories after World War II. His company was the Chemical Industrial Corp. based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“My boss sent Bill Lear some money to build him a jet airplane,” “Beaver said. “Lear call him back and said, ‘How would you like to have the first Lear Jet?’ A while later he delivered Lear Jet #1 to Hamilton. When I wasn’t flying my boss around the country we put the jet into an air-taxis business.
“I flew important people for years in that jet,” ‘Beaver’ said. “We charged them a buck a mile when we started out.”
“We flew people like Frank Sinatra, Sen. Wilber Mills and Congressman Gerald Ford. After 25 years of flying for Hamilton I quit. I was 55-years old.
“For the next few years I flew from time-to-time just to keep my hand in. After flying people to Miami I decided to move to this area about 18 years ago. “
“Beaver” moved into Eagle Point in the late ’90s. He has three grown daughter: Bobbie, Rebeca and Nancy.
Name: Robert J. “Beaver” Radebaugh
D.O.B: 17 Mar. 1926
Hometown: Toledo, Ohio
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 16 Sept. 1944
Discharged: 29 July 1946
Rank: Staff Sargent
Unit: E-Company, 33 Regiment, 3rd Armored Division
Commendations: European, African, Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon, Army of Oupation Medal (Germany), Good Conduct Medal, World War II Vicory Medal.
Battles/Campaigns: Central Europe
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 14, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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