McBeath:“Wouldn’t Have Missed It For Anything”
“Buzz Bomb keep your motor going,” Kay (Porter) McBeath and fellow members of the United States Army Medical Corps would sing as the sound of V-1s and V-2s filled the air outside London, England.
“It was a regular sight. There was nothing you could do to stop it,” said the Mc- Connellsburg resident of the small, unmanned bombs equipped with a small motor that were commonly used during World War II. McBeath and her cohorts stationed in Buzz Bomb Alley would literally hold their breath when the noise ceased as the bomb would explode almost immediately.
In spite of finding herself scared on plenty of occasions, the 91-year-old veteran proudly says she has no regrets and wouldn’t have missed her time in the military for anything.
A native of Henderson, Ky., her family relocated to Chambersburg for work-related purposes as her father had been ordered to open a plant there for the Heinz Co. Not sure what her calling in life was growing up, McBeath would eventually study and obtain a physical education degree through Penn State. In turn, a teacher would tell her about physical therapy, which sounded interesting enough and led her to further her studies at D.T. Watson School of Therapy, now part of the Pittsburgh Medical School.
McBeath and fellow students would be asked to complete their required internship through the military or with a regular hospital. At the age of 21 she would receive a direct commission to travel to Fort Devens, Mass. as a second lieutenant, thereby eliminating the need for basic training.
In December 1943, she left Boston Harbor as part of the largest convoy to ever have travelled across the Atlantic. Unfortunately for McBeath, her position in the convoy was dubbed “coffin’s corner.” The supplies for the trip were kept in the center of the convoy for safety purposes, and items that were deemed expendable were kept in the left rear corner or coffin’s corner.
“I thought it was crazy. We were sitting ducks.We had a few scares along the way, but we made it,” McBeath said. Eleven days later and 10 pounds lighter from being seasick she arrived in Glasgow, Scotland. A train would take them to England where a hospital was established to care for the wounded.
“The English were pretty nice to us, but they resented us soldiers in a way. We were overpaid and over there,” McBeath stated.
McBeath and six female roommates were assigned to sleeping quarters in a stone manor while in England. They worked constantly to keep the fire in their small fireplace, and later a stove, stoked.
As the English had been active in the war effort for some time, food was hard to come by. In addition, many buildings that had once served as storefronts or even homes in the London area were deserted and uninhabited. Their free time typically consisted of watching plays, which wouldn’t even break for the bombing going on outside.
McBeath also recalls accompanying a minister to a church service during her downtime. They received a warm welcome from the congregation after the sermon and singing. “The English people were so strong, and so happy to see us. I don’t know if Americans could have put up with what they did with the bombings and V-1s and V-2s,” she added.
In 1944, McBeath received a transfer to a spa and resort town in the mountains of France where she would work as a physical therapist for the 23rd General Hospital. In fact, as military personnel and the wounded were moving through one door of the hotel to set up their makeshift hospital, hotel patrons were being shuttled out another door.
“It was a great outfit. I loved it,” she said. “It was different though. The people were much different than they were in England.”
Also, different was the type of patients they would see. Prior to D-Day, patients at the hospital were typically from the Air Force. Afterwards, they were flooded with members representing all branches of the military.
Thinking back on the evening before D-Day, McBeath said there were so many planes, gliders and paratroopers in the sky you couldn’t have fit a fly between them. “We knew it was coming,” she said.
Taking care of the soldiers, whom she fondly refers to as “kids,” was hands down the best part of her military career. “The kids were great. They were willing to do anything,” she said. Her duties consisted of massages, exercise, remedial exercises and just social interaction.
“It was hard seeing the loss of life,” stated McBeath. “It was very rewarding and hard at times taking care of the kids. And they were kids, young boys ... mostly in their teens and 20s.”
Just because the war would eventually end, didn’t mean that McBeath’s duties in France were over. McBeath moved to Paris and would remain there for approximately one year as they readied the soldiers for the trip home.
“The atmosphere was different after the war was over. You didn’t worry about anyone getting injured unless it was maybe by a passing taxi,” she noted.
A regimented and straight and narrow person to those who know her, McBeath said being overseas wasn’t much of a culture shock. “I asked to be in the military. I asked to go overseas,” she stated, “It was different. You adjust fast. You don’t have a choice. That’s part of the military lifestyle.”
Meanwhile, patiently waiting for her back home was friend Walker McBeath. Also in the Army Medical Corps, the duo struck up a friendship back in the states when Walker was sent to Kay for physical therapy after having suffered a shoulder injury while playing basketball. The two would exchange letters during the duration of her overseas deployment and his time spent in Texas.
“There were so many letters,” McBeath recalls. “It was so wonderful to get mail. We would get several at a time. We would keep track of what letter we had written by numbering each one.”
It is apparently true that opposites attract, because when Kay arrived home she quickly jumped at the chance to marry Walker, who was not a by-the-book kind of guy and happy to be out of military service.
With her family having relocated yet again to Bowling Green, Ohio, Walker and Kay travelled to Ohio to be with her family for the ceremony. She was in her mid-20s at the time and slipped into the role of a happy housewife, while Walker proved himself to be a good salesman. They would spend much of their years together in Rhode Island before Walker’s passing in 1984.
As McBeath’s sister Jean (Porter) Kies had moved to Mc- Connellsburg, McBeath put down roots in Fulton County where she has been an active and instrumental member of the community. Once active at the American Legion, McBeath has given much of her time in recent years to the McConnellsburg VFW where she served two years as post commander. McBeath has also been a familiar face at the Fulton County Library, volunteering and giving of herself for 25 years.
“My military experience definitely made me who I am today. It meant a lot to me,” she proudly said.