While under heavy enemy fire around Luxembourg, 19-year-old Private Jean “John” P. Beaugard volunteered to run through an open field to save an injured soldier and carry him back to safety.
And 66 years later, on a Thursday in Doral, the Vero Beach resident was honored for his bravery with the Bronze Star, given by Lt. Gen. Ken Keen at the U.S. Southern Command.
It was a war story Beaugard never told his family – not his four children, five grandchildren, two great grandchildren, or even his wife of 61 years. But when his oldest son Jean, who also goes by John, 59, started to research his father’s time in the military, he discovered the military owed him the medal.
The process to get the award began when Beaugard’s son John took a trip to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. When he didn’t see his father’s name, he began to dig up records of his father and the 318th Infantry Regiment, to see what he did during the war.
Two years and loads of paperwork later, the military corrected Beaugard’s record with the award of the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and one additional bronze service star to his campaign medal. Beaugard, 85, only learned of the honor a year ago.
“I’m overwhelmed with this whole thing,” Beaugard said before the ceremony. “I never expected it. I was just one of millions of soldiers.”
Tears welled in several family members who came to witness the event. His wife Patricia, 83, fought back tears to simply describe her feelings as “Proud.”
His daughter, Elizabeth, recalled her reactions when she first learned of the story: “You mean he was running out under fire to save someone? What? You didn’t tell me that part, Dad.”
Beaugard was drafted into the army and arrived for duty on Jan. 7, 1945, assigned to a company within the 80th Infantry Division that was part of Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army.
Beaugard’s company was part of the Battle of the Bulge, known as the largest and bloodiest battle Americans fought during World War II.
The entire 80th Infantry Division captured 212,295 enemy soldiers during the war; Beaugard was among the 17,087 men injured or killed.
There was one moment in combat where a fellow soldier from New Orleans, nicknamed Frenchy, was seriously injured and couldn’t get to safety. Officers asked for volunteers to run through the rain of fire to carry him back.
“There was a lot of fire,” Beaugard recalled. “Nobody stood up right away, but I felt that I should, and I did. I was accompanied by three other men.”
But several weeks after the heroic event, Beaugard had to be hospitalized. Like many other soldiers suffering through the cold and wet conditions, he had to be treated for trench foot, a foot infection that for many leads to amputation. But Beaugard recovered, and he was honorably discharged on July 27, 1945.
“You look at the condition they fought in, cold and wet,’’ Keen said. “You really appreciate what those men went through.”
The New Jersey-native went back to his home state where he started a family and worked for 40 years at Public Service Electric & Gas Co. In 1990, he and his wife retired to Vero Beach.
“Private Beaugard is a shining example of the citizen soldier that was called to war, served, and quietly went about his way to make a great life for himself and his family,” Keen said.
This was the first Bronze Star awarded at the Southern Command’s new facility that opened Dec. 17. A family relative – Richard Zimmelman, whose cousin Amy is Beaugard’s daughter-in-law – works as a financial counselor for the members of Southern Command. Zimmelman asked if Southern Command could host a proper recognition for Beaugard – or else the medal would simply be sent in the mail.
“I must say, sometimes our army is late in presenting awards,” Keen said during the presentation. “But never let it be said that we do not correct the record, and eventually accomplish the mission, as we’re doing here today.”
When asked what was the best and worst parts of his military experience, Beaugard gave the same answer for both: “Being on the front lines where all the action is.”