Charles R. Bechtol

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NAME:
Charles Raymond Bechtol
NICKNAME:
Chuck
SERVICE NUMBER:
O-18327
HOME OF RECORD:
Everett, WA
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Gretchen Bechtol
DATE OF BIRTH:
3/5/1917
SERVICE DATES:
11/13/1942 – 7/31/1946
DATE OF DEATH:
7/5/1992
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE RESULT
Roi-Namur D/1/24 1542 1st Lieutenant  
Saipan B/1/24 1542 1st Lieutenant WIA
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
First Lieutenant

Charles Raymond Bechtol was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 5, 1917. He had few memories of life in the Show Me State; within a year, his parents Ernest and Jessie (Byars) Bechtol moved their three children to Redmond, Washington, where Ernest began working in a drugstore (he earned his Bachelor of Pharmacy at Cincinnati College in 1911). Tragedy struck in July 1919; Jessie Bechtol died shortly after giving birth to the family’s last child, Ernest Junior. She was only twenty seven years old.

Despite their loss, the Bechtols established themselves in Washington. As a pharmacist, Ernest Senior was well known in a small town that had limited access to doctors, and a neighbor recalled seeing the Bechtol children storing concoctions of cascara bark and water in old beer bottles, playing at druggist. (The neighbor, Glenn Lampaert, “wondered if the children ever sold the homemade laxative in their father’s store.”)[1]

As he reached his teenage years, Charles Bechtol developed a strong interest in sports—but his school, Redmond High, had no football team. In the summer of 1934, Bechtol took matters into his own hands. He found the address of the headmaster of Lakeside Private School in Seattle, and simply walked up to the front door.

One day a boy of sixteen rang our doorbell and introduced himself as Charles Bechtol. He came, he said, from a small rural community called Redmond to the east, no more than a crossroads. He wanted to come to Lakeside. He explained that his father had a drug store in Redmond but that his family could not afford the tuition. He wanted to play football, and Redmond High School had no team. He would work for his room and board.[2]

The headmaster sized up the determined teenager, and that fall Chuck Bechtol became Lakeside’s first athletic scholarship student. He did not disappoint. “He was a better than average student, a powerful runner, passer, and blocker, a talented basketball player, and eventually holder of four Lakeside track and field records,” writes Hazard Adams. “Charles Bechtol’s matriculation signaled the beginning of a period of four years in which Lakeside football excelled, mainly through the deliberate recruitment of good athletes…. I became a rabid fan of a sport I later did not really like to play, and I regarded Charles Bechtol as a heroic figure….”[3]

In 1936, Chuck Bechtol enrolled at the University of Washington. Unsurprisingly, he immediately went out for as many sports as he could, and even as a “Husky Pup” freshman attracted attention. Bechtol lettered in basketball and baseball, and was the school’s top shot-putter for three seasons. But it was on the gridiron that “Charlie” really shone. He captained the Huskies in 1939, and as a senior was the team’s starting quarterback. Whenever UW faced off against their northern California rivals, Bechtol’s name was in the paper; a broken arm in a game against Pittsburgh made headlines and his graduation was met with predictions of doom for Husky football.

Chuck Bechtol through the years at the University of Washington. Photos from the Tyee Yearbook, 1936-1940.

The future was bright for Chuck Bechtol. His family was thriving—Ernest Senior expanded the family business into Bechtol Drugstore in 1938—and in 1941 he married his college sweetheart, Gretchen Ann Smith.

Gretchen Smith Bechtol at the University of Washington.
Gretchen Smith Bechtol at the University of Washington.

When asked about her husband many years later, Gretchen Bechtol would say “He was true blue, you could always depend on him.” Chuck’s integrity and the leadership he’d learned on the football field would serve him well in the years to come.

The Bechtols had only been married a few months when Pearl Harbor was attacked. While some in Seattle worriedly calculated the distance between Hawaii and Washington, others made plans to fight back. On August 31, 1942, Chuck Becthol took the oath and became a Marine Corps officer candidate. After a brief spell at the Platoon Leader’s Unit, Puget Sound Navy Yard, Becthol crossed the continent to attend Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. Just as he’d done in college, Bechtol applied himself diligently to his new duties—he even qualified as a sharpshooter on the rifle range—and by January 1943 joined his classmates of Company E, 17th Candidates Class in accepting a commission as a second lieutenant.

Lieutenant Bechtol stayed at Quantico until April, at which point he transferred out to Camp Elliott, California for advanced infantry training. He specialized in the use and deployment of heavy 81mm mortars, and in the summer of 1943 joined Company D, 24th Marines as the commanding officer of their mortar platoon.

81mm-mortar-section

81mm mortarmen of the 24th Marines – possibly of Bechtol’s platoon –
deploy their weapon at Camp Pendleton, 1943.

Bechtol had a total of forty-six gunners and support personnel under his command, servicing four “tubes.” He also had to oversee a section of communications personnel whose hefty equipment kept the gunners in touch with the forward observers. This was a lot for one officer to handle, and the Corps allowed for an assistant platoon leader to shoulder half the burden. Bechtol’s assistant was Second Lieutenant William C. James, Jr., son of Colonel William James, Chief of Staff for the First Marine Division.

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2Lt. William C. James, Jr.

Bechtol, James and the rest of their platoon trained at Camp Pendleton, California through the summer and winter of 1943. On January 13, 1944, they set sail for combat.

Heavy mortars were, as the name suggests, cumbersome to carry and difficult to deploy. They also required a certain amount of space to fire effectively, and were usually deployed a few hundred yards behind the front lines. On the wide expanses of Camp Pendleton’s outback, this had been easy to account for, but on the tiny island of Namur—itself less than a thousand yards wide—it was a different story. For several hours after the combat landing of February 1, 1944, Bechtol’s mortars could not deploy; a few of his men went forward to fight as riflemen. Once the big weapons were deployed, firing them safely presented yet another problem. One of Bechtol’s friends in Company A, 1st Lt. Phllip Wood Jr., led a section of smaller 60mm mortars; he complained that the riflemen advanced too quickly for the supporting weapons to register targets.

Finally, as the lines solidified for the night and the advance stopped, the mortars could be employed. Bechtol and James contented themselves by dropping a few rounds on the Japanese before dark set in. They were able to show their prowess in a brief barrage that preceded the following morning’s infantry attack, but again had to cease fire as their battalion reached the end of the island. Namur was declared secure 24 hours after Bechtol landed.

shipboardclip6

Charles Bechtol, center, flanked by Lt. Fred Stott and Lt. Earl Marquardt, aboard the SS Robin Wentley, February 1944.

After spending a few unpleasant days on the ravaged island, Lieutenant Bechtol boarded the SS Robin Wentley for passage to Camp Maui, Hawaii. There, he was informed that the Corps had issued an order calling for the dissolution of all heavy weapons companies. His mortar platoon would be attached directly to battalion headquarters, and Becthol was ordered to report to Baker Company. The job of running their mortar section went to Lieutenant James; Bechtol took command of the Third Platoon, replacing the late Second Lieutenant Donald Joy.

Chuck Bechtol had some general knowledge of how to run a rifle platoon, but no practical experience. Fortunately, his senior NCOs – Platoon Sergeant John J. O’Brien and Sergeant Everil Manuel were old pre-war Marines and more than capable of guiding their new CO, and Bechtol was soon promoted to First Lieutenant. He had two and a half months to prepare himself and his platoon for the next invasion, which happened to be the island of Saipan in the Marianas.

Unfortunately, most of Bechtol’s preparations would be in vain. He landed on Saipan on June 15, 1944, but the following day he was shot in the leg. The wound was serious enough to send him back to a hospital ship–Bechtol was in combat command of his rifle platoon for less than one day.[4]

Chuck Bechtol had his wounds treated in Hawaii, and was back in Seattle by September 1944. Returning to combat was out of the question, so Bechtol was instead assigned to the Naval Hospital in Oakland, California as an educational services officer. His wounds continued to trouble him, and for nearly two years Bechtol was in and out of the Oakland hospital.

Marine enlisted men are “discharged” at the end of their service, while officers rather grandly “retire.” Chuck Bechtol “retired” from active duty on July 31, 1946. He returned to Seattle, where his football playing fame still outshone his Marine career; UW welcomed her former star player back by giving him a job as assistant athletic director.

Bechtol in 1951, while working for the University of Washington's athletic department.
Bechtol in 1951, while working for the University of Washington’s athletic department.

In 1953, Bechtol accepted a position as personnel director of the Kenilworth Motor Truck Corporation, part of PACCAR Inc. He eventually became vice president of industrial relations, and was often involved in labor negotiations. He was “a tough and no-nonsense labor negotiator” whose “fair and straight-forward style developed good friends on both sides of the negotiating table.”[5]

Chuck Bechtol retired in 1976 and devoted much of his spare time to golfing and to Gretchen and their two daughters. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1991; told he had two months to live, Bechtol made a plan for another year; not surprisingly, he wanted to see his beloved Huskies play the Rose Bowl one final time.

Chuck Becthol passed away on July 5, 1992, more than a year after his diagnosis, and seven months after the Washington Huskies defeated the Michigan Wolverines to win the 78th Rose Bowl. At present, his burial place is unknown.

_____
NOTES
[1] Redmond Historical Society, “Glenn Lampaert Interview.”
[2] Hazard Adams, Academic Child: A Memoir (McFarland, 2008), 28
[3] Ibid.
[4] Third Platoon had no luck with leaders; Platoon Sergeant O’Brien stepped up to command but was himself killed the next day. Coincidentally, Lt. William James was also wounded and evacuated on this date; he returned to the battle in early July and took command of a leaderless rifle platoon—possibly Third.
[5] Charles Bechtol obituary, Seattle Times, July 10, 1992.

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