Edmund Beacham

Age 93: Hopkins Bayview doctor was an Army surgeon at Normandy after D-Day, later preserved World War II history.

June 01, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun Reporter

He described his experience at the Allied invasion of Europe as "90 percent boredom and 10 percent terror."

Dr. Edmund G. Beacham, who as a young Army physician crossed the English Channel to land in France on June 7, 1944, died of heart disease Tuesday at Stella Maris hospice. The Towson resident was 93.

"Almost whole neighborhoods of men were killed. I don't think anyone envisioned those kinds of casualties. We had clearing stations set up for maybe 900 men over a three-day period. And we were getting 2,100 casualties a day," he told a Sun reporter in 1989.

"One of the main things I remember," he also recalled, "we had a sense of what we were there for. A sense of adventure and patriotism carried us along pretty well. Most people in our community back home had people involved in the war. We got great support."

Born in Baltimore and raised on Linwood Avenue, he played tennis and soccer at Patterson Park as a young man. A 1932 City College graduate, where he was later alumni president, he earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In August 1939 - a year before he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine - his roommate talked him into joining the Army. He had a brief internship at the old Baltimore City Hospitals, now Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he would later devote his career in tuberculosis care and geriatric study.

Dr. Beacham was called to active duty in early 1941. He held the title of regimental surgeon (although not trained in actual surgery) in the 5th Maryland --- or the 175th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division.

"He held a position of extraordinary responsibility because he was in charge of the medical care of more than 3,000 men who were about to enter the most significant battle of World War II," said Joseph Balkoski, a Towson resident and 29th Division historian. "Very high casualties were expected on D-Day and afterward. This was an era when medical advances (blood plasma and sulfa powders) were becoming pronounced and he would employ them to save the lives of wounded who in past wars would not have been saved."

In October 1942, Dr. Beacham sailed on the Queen Elizabeth, then a troop transport, and landed in England. Then a major, his outfit included 125 enlisted men, eight physicians and two dentists. They spent nearly 20 months anticipating the Allied amphibious invasion of German-occupied Europe. He and his company trained in mock invasions on England's southern coast at Cornwall.

He landed on D-Day plus one - June 7, 1944. He stayed initially nearly a mile behind the front lines in aid stations, the first effort to give substantive treatment to the wounded and where battle casualties could be stabilized and later shipped to rear-area hospitals, Mr. Balkoski said.

"Within four months of D-Day, he was promoted to the senior physician in the 29th Infantry Division," Mr. Balkoski said. "For him to be picked as the No. 1 was a tremendous mark of respect for his abilities. His job was intense because his division suffered more than 20,000 casualties in 11 months of continuous combat. It was one of the highest casualty rates of any unit in World War II."

Dr. Beacham was wounded in the upper right arm by a German bullet, according to a family member. He received the Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster and a Purple Heart.

After the war, he completed his residency at City Hospitals and remained at what became Hopkins Bayview until retiring in 1984. In his 40 years at Bayview, he served as chief of the tuberculosis department and later chief of chronic disease, community medicine and geriatrics.

"He was a very publicly and civic-minded individual who strongly believed in public institutions," said his son, Dr. Bruce E. Beacham of Woodbrook. "City Hospitals was once owned by the city and was one of the oldest hospitals in the U.S. He felt it was his mission to work there."

In the early 1980s, Dr. Beacham founded, with several others, the Maryland Military Historical Society to preserve the World War II history of the 29th Division.

"He assured that the archival records of the division were conserved and promoted the writing of the history, and he supported it actively," Mr. Balkoski said. "It was not fashionable then, but he made it plain to veterans it was important for them to recount their experiences."

In 1974, he retired from the Army Reserves Medical Corps with the rank of colonel. He held the Legion of Merit and the Maryland Distinguished Service Medal. In 1982, he retired as a brigadier general from the Maryland National Guard. In 1994, according to his son, he returned to Normandy for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the invasion. Dr. Beacham, possibly the highest-ranking American survivor present, marched through the streets of St. Lo.

"He thought it was great," his son said.

A military funeral with honors will be held at 10:45 a.m. tomorrow at the Maryland Veterans Cemetery, 11501 Garrison Forest Road.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 67 years, the former Carolyn V. Mierzejewski; a daughter, Joyce C. Raddatz of Severna Park; and a grandson.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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