By Jimmy Patterson
Editor / The Angelus
MILLERSVIEW — World War II veterans often never share with loved ones their experiences in combat. Some talk of them openly. And somdistilere wait until they realize their time here isn’t as long as it used to be and finally open up about some of the remarkable and horrific times they endured.
Deacon Leroy Beach falls into the last class.
It has been only recently that Beach has told his loved ones the story of an almost miraculous conversion that happened to a female German Commandant in the European theater. Beach was told the story by a Catholic Army Chaplain who served a neighboring regiment in the region where he had been stationed. Almost 60 years later, he is still unable to share the story without being overcome with emotion.
The German commandant routinely abused and neglected allied soldiers placed under her watch, forcing them to spend freezing overnights naked after having routinely cut back the prisoners’ rations of cabbage soup – little more than green, cabbage flavored water – so that death would come more quickly to the solders’ undernourished systems. When the camp was liberated by allied forces and the female German commandant taken into custody and imprisoned herself, she asked to see a Catholic Army chaplain who would later share the story with Beach.
“She asked to see a priest,” Beach said. “Several days later, after confessing her sins, they returned to her cell and found that her tears had been so prolific the pillow where she had laid her head had become a solid block of ice. She was found kneeling on a large rock that was inside her prison cell. The repentant commandant stayed in that kneeling position until she died three days later. When she was discovered, medical personnel at the camp were unable to move her bones into their original position and she was buried, bent and in a praying position.”
While Beach was not directly involved in what happened to the woman, the story, replete with its power of God’s overwhelming grace, still intensely moves him to this day.
Beach’s daughter Loretta Burgess, who grew up in Millersview, said her father only started telling stories of the war a little over 10 years ago, “a little at a time.”
“I think as he moves toward the end of his life, some of these things have had to come out,” Burgess said.
When Beach returned to the United States, he married his wife of 64 years, Dorrace, and together they moved west to Millersview, then in the Diocese of Amarillo. Raised in a beautiful double-spired church in Westphalia, the young couple moved to Millersview and found the closest places to attend Sunday Mass were in Olfen and Eden. After noticing that nothing had been done for Catholics in the West Texas farming area, Beach talked to Father Michael Moore, OMI, in Menard, about beginning a Mass in Millersview. Beach, who wouldn’t become a deacon until a quarter-century later, in 1979, was told that only a weekday Mass would be possible. He told the priest that he could provide religious instruction to the area’s many Catholics, Hispanic or otherwise, if the priest would simply celebrate one weekday Mass in Millersview.
“We attended First Friday services in Menard every month and that is how we originally got to know the Oblates well,” Burgess said.
Burgess gave credit to her father for literally building Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Millersview in 1954, but only after years of BBQ fundraisers had brought in enough money.
“He painted, repaired, mowed, polished candlesticks; whatever needed doing,” Burgess said. “Mom washed and ironed cloths, purificators, cleaned the church and cut flowers out of the yard for bouquets at the altar. We have always said dad and mom did God’s work long before he was ordained a deacon in 1979.
He is fluent in the Church’s history in that part of the diocese.
During the 1930s, when the area was under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Amarillo, in the time of the Great Depression, Beach said money had been appropriated by the diocese to establish a mission in the community about 45 miles east of San Angelo. Studies showed Millersview had more Catholics than any other denomination. After the Amarillo bishop appropriated $6,000 for the construction of the new church, priests from the more northern environs of the diocese visited Millersview and were unable to communicate or become familiar with the customs and ways of the Spanish-speaking people in and around Millersview. For that reason, the visiting priests would recommend to the Amarillo Bishop that the money that had been appropriated for Millersview be re-directed to establish a church in Pep, near Lubbock.
Beach’s hard work was not confined to construction, cleaning or repairs. For 20 years, Burgess said, her father left Millersview a couple of hours before Mass to pick up children from area ranches and bring them to CCD and Mass. Burgess said her parents were active in teaching others about the faith long before it was called RCIA and said her father taught religious education for 49 years.
Years ago, when the Millersview school was across the street from Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission, Beach asked the school’s administration if the Catholic students could be dropped off at the Church so they could pray the Rosary before the school day. Beach led the children in the Rosary every day before beginning work on his farm.
Beach credits Dorrace for all the good in his life, even though he says it was Dorrace who insisted that it was Beach who made her what she was.
Together, they did God’s work in difficult circumstances, much as oblate priests are also taught. In addition to their own 11 children, Beach and Dorrace helped children whenever and however they could. One of his favorite memories is the story of Erasmo, a Mexican teenager falsely accused of stealing tires in Rio Grande City, near San Antonio.
“There was a priest in Rio Grande City and he had a Mexican boy named Erasmo, who ran elevators in San Antonio. Erasmo was raised poor by his mother and grandfather. We looked out after him for about a year after the police there accused him of stealing tires even though he had just taken one old, discarded tire from a stack so that he could replace the flat on his car and take food to his grandmother.
“A priest familiar with Erasmo’s story called Dorrace and told her that our taking care of him for a year was the only way to keep him out of reform school. The priest told my wife, ‘When your husband comes home, ask him whether you can take the boy for a year.’ She told the priest, ‘I don’t have to ask him. I know what he’ll do. You don’t know my husband like I do.’ She said, ‘I say we’ll take them and so will my husband.’ ”
Authorities in charge of Erasmo’s case insisted that the Beaches work the youth hard every day and give him no money, and after a year, the Beaches would be the judge as to whether he was fit to return to society.
“All he supposedly did was take a tire that had been discarded,” Beach remembered. “Erasmo came and stayed for the year and we took him back. I signed the letter the authorities asked me to sign about him being ready to be back in society.”
In the year on Beach’s farm, Erasmo learned how to raise a calf, care for it, and then sell it. Beach allowed him to keep the earnings from the sale and in the process taught Erasmo how to care and show livestock. Erasmo not only successfully reindoctrinated himself into society, but would later join the Navy and become a pastor of a Protestant church.
“Dad’s legacy was that every night before his grandkids or great-grandkids went to bed, or would return to their homes, Dad would draw little crosses on the backs of the hands to remind them what Jesus did for all of us,” Burgess said.
“Dad’s and Mom’s greatest gift to all of us was teaching us to love God and have faith in him, and to have a willingness to serve Him and His people.”