LOVE STORY: Uncle’s wartime memento is priceless Valentine
The First Special Service Force was an elite commando unit of Canadian and U.S. troops trained in Helena, Mont., from July 1942 to April 1943. The force’s first assignment in Italy was to crack the Germans’ defense and take Monte la Difensa in the Liri Valley, “purple heart valley,” between Rome and Naples.
My mother’s younger brother, Richard, enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1942, became a paratrooper and a member of the force. Mom told me he kept a picture of me, his only nephew at the time, in his helmet for good luck when he parachuted from a C-47.
Mom’s story had always touched my heart – wow, Uncle Richard loved me enough to carry my picture in his helmet. The warmth of the picture story carried me through some difficult times in my life when I did not feel loved.
My uncle was one of the 73 members of the force killed in action defeating the German troops on la Difensa in less than two hours. I spent two years studying conversational Italian, reading books and watching DVDs about Italy preparing for the trip to climb Monte la Difensa to honor my uncle.
My oldest adult child, Kathy, gave me an electronic life story memory book to write my story, “Down the Beaton Path.” I spent long hours over a weekend going through pictures to select about 30 possible pictures to use in the book. After reading the back of hundreds of pictures, I was mentally numb – on automatic pilot. I picked up a picture of me with my dad’s USCG hat on my head, turned the picture over to read my mother’s penmanship in ink, “December 20, 1942 Mobile, Alabama almost 21 months, Kenneth Paul Beaton.” Below it she wrote in pencil, “Richard carried this picture in his helmet each time he jumped, died Dec. 3, 1943.”
A Valentine does not have to have a heart. Holding the picture my Uncle Richard kept in his helmet is priceless.