Last Muster: Edward W. DuBeck (1920 – 2016)

Edward Walter DuBeck, a former machine gun NCO with Companies D and A of First Battalion, 24th Marines, passed away on Saturday, July 2, 2016.

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A Philadelphia native, Mr. DuBeck saw “the whole [Bridesburg] neighborhood, everybody” joining the war effort, whether motivated by patriotism or problems at home. Ed “wanted to do my part, too” – and his job in a machine shop wasn’t cutting it. So on August 24, 1942, he went to the Custom House to enlist.

Joining the Marines wasn’t a calculated decision; it was simply the first service branch that came to mind. Like many, Ed found boot camp “a pain in the rear,” but his athletic nature helped him get through the tough training – which, he later admitted, “surprised me more than anything.” His perseverance led to a promotion to Private First Class while at Camp Pendleton, and his evident leadership skills resulted in his assignment as a machine gun squad leader in the First Platoon of D/1/24.

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DuBeck left the United States on January 13, 1944; he would not return for almost two years. He fought in every battle of the Fourth Marine Division, and every one left terrible memories. Seeing his first dead friends on Namur, then turning his gun into the teeth of a banzai charge and killing some fifty Japanese. Watching with horror as mothers threw their children off of Saipan’s cliffs until the beaches below turned red. Making a brotherhood pact with his buddy Ted, and then seeing Ted go down shot “like a ton of bricks” only twenty feet away, too far to be saved. Being wounded on Tinian after “a dumb move that I survived,” and wandering the Pacific from ship to hospital for six weeks. Finding family photographs of dead men on Iwo Jima, American and Japanese, and somehow surviving to be tormented by the question why me and not them? There was the buddy, Shorty, who he promised to meet in Pearl Harbor and never saw again. And there was the buddy, unnamed, who left his blood on Ed’s jacket and “gave me inspiration to keep going and do whatever I needed to do.”

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Ed (lower right) with friends and family after the war.

He came home in 1945 (with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for the “dumb move” of taking out a Japanese pillbox on Tinian) and started looking for a job. School was out (“I was too damn dumb”) and so was the machine shop (“too boring for me, you know?”) He toyed with the idea of joining SWAT and almost wound up in a prison laundry before landing “the best job in the world” – a trash collector with the Philadelphia Department of Sanitation. Ed became a well-known figure around Bridesburg, remembered as a man who would help anyone in need and never had an unkind word to say. He married and raised a large family which eventually included eight grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.

“I’m all for Memorial Day… it’s nice to remember. The guys in World War One,  but we forgot about them guys.You gotta remember the guys who were breaking their ass out there. It wasn’t easy. They had to give up a lot to join up, they had to give up their family life, the mother and father the family they left behind they suffered! They suffered! The vets, we can’t take all the glory, we had a job to do, we did our job – they had a hell of a job at home here.”

For the rest of his life, Ed DuBeck was devoted to Memorial Day. He organized the first Memorial Day parade in Bridesburg; today it is the longest-running such event in Philadelphia. The United Veterans of Bridesburg (which he co-founded) sponsors the event every year, and in spite of declining health, Ed was a permanent fixture at the parade, up to and including this year.

Rest in peace, Ed DuBeck. Semper Fi.

Quotations in this post are from a 2010 interview with Mr. DuBeck, conducted by and courtesy of Shane Hickey.

Pictures in this post are courtesy of Shane Hickey. To see more of Mr. DuBeck’s wartime photos, visit his gallery page.

 


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