In “Panzerwrecks 12″ we ran a feature entitled, “Sarge Bealko Shoots a Tiger II.” ‘Sarge’ was Ed Bealko, the vet who took the photos in Mons, Belgium, all those years ago. He generously provided the originals to us so that we could present them in our books. Ed was just a teenager when he drove a Sherman tank through the ETO, and we had several long phone conversations with him about his experiences in the war. The most memorable, to me, was his account of having his Sherman tank recovered after having it shot out from underneath him during an advance across a field: A Dragon Wagon was brought up, and the Sherman was loaded aboard. As Ed tried to grab some sleep in the large tractor cab during the night, he could hear the driver applying the air brakes every so often. On a down hill slope, the driver applied them too frequently, used up his air supply, and lost his brakes! The tank transporter hurtled down the hill and into a little French town below. The vehicle hit a fountain in the town square, and it sheared the cab right off the tractor chassis. Ed recalled that the vehicle came to rest after crashing through the wall of the school house and scaring the headmaster half to death. Such are the stories that made his recollections so lively.
When we first contacted Ed, he was a bit skeptical of our intentions, so we sent him a set of PWs to show him what we were up to. They must have impressed him, because he phoned back immediately, and an enjoyable relationship ensued. (The attached photo of Ed and ‘General Patton’ was enclosed in Ed’s most recent Christmas card.) When the advance copies of PW12 came in, we made sure we rushed him a copy.
Ed’s wife, Elizabeth, called soon after to say that Ed had passed away after suffering a fall and hitting his head. He lost consciousness and died a week later. At the hospital, she tried to show him his starring role in PW12 but could not tell if he understood or not. It was with deep sorrow and regret that we received the news, because Ed was not just generous with us, he was generous with everyone he met.
Although he lived on a golf course, and could often be seen driving “Buddy,” his Boston terrier, around in his golf cart, Ed was very active in Habitat for Humanity and Catholic charities; just the day before he fell, he had been awarded the St.Vincent de Paul ‘Top Hat’ award for his volunteer work. Ed’s wife, Elizabeth, said that Ed guarded his “Panzerwrecks” and, although he would show them to people, he wouldn’t lend them out. We’re glad he was more trusting with his personal photos, and we are honored that we had the opportunity to present them here. As a matter of fact, I had called Ed to confirm some small detail before we went to press, and it was then that I realized the importance of people in our lives. I couldn’t read the name scrawled on the back of one of the photos where Ed had identified the G.I. in the photo. Ed spelled it out for me without hesitation, and said, “‘Legs’ was Best Man at my wedding. We called him “Legs” because he was six foot tall.”
Below is the photo that accompanied Ed’s Christmas card to me last December. Ed is shown shaking hands with Art Pope, a ‘General Patton’ lookalike.