Getting the nickname "Jumpin'" when you're in the 101st Airborne's "Screaming Eagles" division and everyone's job is to jump out of planes has to be an achievement in itself. Not satisfied with that, Jumpin' Joe Beyrle also went on to become the only American soldier to serve in both the U.S. Army and the Soviet Army in World War II ... but not before having to go through hell and back. Just looking at his face before and after his ordeal should tell you the whole story:
In June 1944, Beyrle was supposed to take part in D-Day, but his Normandy jump went a little wrong -- by which we mean his plane burst into flames with him still in it. He was forced to jump off the plane before it crashed, landing on the roof of a church. Despite being all alone and slightly singed from the explosion, he still managed to evade capture for 24 hours, in which time he kept busy by blowing up a power station (oh, and a few German soldiers as well) before being captured and dragged into the heart of the Reich.
After being beaten, starved and generally treated in a manner not necessarily conforming to the Geneva Conventions, Beyrle found himself as a POW in what is now Western Poland, less than 100 miles from the Russian Front. He would later find out that the American government had pronounced him dead months ago and a funeral mass had been held in his hometown. No one was coming to get him.
And so, in January 1945, despite various wounds (including a fresh bullet hole in his left arm), Beyrle attempted the last of several escapes. Fleeing in a hail of bullets (which killed the two other prisoners who tried to go with him), he headed east, hoping to run into the Red Army.
After three days of wading through icy streams by night and hiding in barns by day, Beyrle made it to the Russian Front, where the American waved down a T-34 shouting, "Amerikansky tovarishch!" He convinced the female tank commander that he, in his own words, "wanted to join them and go to Berlin with them and kill Nazis." They handed him a paybook and a machine gun and, that was it: This member of the 101st Airborne was now in the Red Army.
Several days of constant fighting later, he went back to his old POW camp and helped liberate his friends. Taking three suitcases full of liberated currency and his own POW record file as a souvenir, he rejoined the Soviets and kept on fighting ... until a German bomber blew him up. He woke up in a Russian hospital, where he met with the most decorated military leader in the history of Russia and the Soviet Union: Georgy Zhukov.
When they shook hands, four people caught on fire.
With the Field Marshal's help, Beyrle traveled to the American Embassy in the Soviet Capital ... where he was arrested because he misplaced all his identification on the Moscow subway. Beyrle was held under armed guard until his identity was confirmed, attacking a guard for no reason in the meantime, and he was returned to America. He came back to his hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, in 1946, where he got married in the same church and with the same priest that had held his funeral two years earlier.
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For more incredible escapes, check out The 5 Most Badass Prison Escapes in the History of War and 6 Insane Prison Escapes That Actually Happened.
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