Returning soldiers from the European theater are telling tales about their experiences in the battles of south Germany. In many cases these stories, as told by Berks veterans, reveal that the knowledge of the Pennsylvania German dialect helped them in tight places in Germany. The story of Gilbert Beamsderfer, Ephrata puts the use of the “Dutch” on the debit side, however, or as the poolroom boys would say, there is “reverse English on it.”
Corporal Beamsderfer was reared near Ephrata, in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country. The use of the dialect in speech is as second nature to him. Attached to the 35th Division of Patton’s Third Army, Beamsderfer found himself in the part of the world from which his ancestors emigrated to American centuries ago. Little did he realize the chain of untoward circumstances which awaited him there.
In combat the Ephrata man was wounded in the arm and in the confusion of rounding up wounded and prisoners he somehow came to be mixed up in a group of German prisoners without realizing the character of his companions. In a hospital behind the lines a surgeon was administering ether. The American doctor, thinking that his patient was a German prisoner, spoke to him briefly in German and a dazed Beamsderfer answered in that language.
An American officer passed the cot on which the wounded solider lay.
“What happened?” asked Beamsderfer in English. “Have we been captured?”
“Be quiet,” came the command “Your’re with your buddies?”
“Buddies hell! I am an American. Get me out of here?”
The American officer paid no attention. Many Nazi soldiers could speak English with an accent.
Ten days passed. Beamsderfer could not convince anyone that he was not an enemy prisoner. Then he was transferred to a prisoner of war camp in England. There he challenged an interpreter, saying:
“I’ll prove to you that I come from Pennsylvania. I’ll tell you things about the Amish and about the Pennsylvania Dutch which no outsider could possible know.”
His plea resulted in gaining audience with a nurse whose home is in Philadelphia. Beamsderfer succeeded in convincing the nurse that he was truly a Pennsylvanian in spite of his German and his accent. Fortunately the nurse had read some things about the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The next step was to investigate the claims of Bemasderfer in Army headquarters in Washington. One month after his imprisonment he was released when an officer told him joyfully, “You’r an American at last!”
Beamsderfer returned to this country soon after hostilities ended. At the time of this writing he is on a 90-day furlough.
He is determined to observe “I Am an American Day” each year when the holiday rolls around.
Image Source: http://padutch.net/mistaken-identity-the-story-of-cpl-gilbert-j-beamesderfer/
The story/cartoon was carried by the Yank: The Army Weekly on August 10, 1945, meaning the Arthur Graeff and Scholla beat them to the punch by two months!! The story varies slightly but propaganda has their own agenda when telling a story.