Don Bein served in Europe toward the end of WWII. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He saw the victory in Belgium and then how the Bridge of Remagen was captured by the Allies. In April 1945, the Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had the foresight to protect the truth of the Holocaust. He gave orders for all available troops to view the Jewish prisoners who were either dead or living skeletons in a liberated concentration camp. Don Bein, now in his 90s, was an eyewitness of the camp. He said it was the worst day of his life, and he is still following Eisenhower’s orders to tell people what he saw. Siblings Aidan and Ariah Quimby have preserved his important story for young readers.
Don Bein – U.S. Army, 9th Armored Division, WWII
Donald Henry Bein was born on June 5, 1925 in Davenport, Iowa. Don had one sister named Lois. His parents, Otto and Helen, raised their children during the Great Depression. Years before, Helen’s father, Don’s grandfather, had immigrated from Germany. He was a builder and had done well in the construction business. He owned a fourplex he rented out; Don’s family lived in one of the apartments. His grandfather bought a piece of land on the Wapsipinicon “Wapsi” River and they built a cabin on it. It was a place for the men to hunt and fish, which provided food for the family during the hard times. Oftentimes, deer and rabbit meat were on their dinner tables for the family to enjoy. Don has wonderful childhood memories, especially at that cabin.
Boy Scouts was a wonderful part of his childhood memories. There was very little entertainment for children back in those days, so kids had to be creative to have fun. They helped with the family garden, which provided more food for the family. The men and boys in the family were hunting and fishing at the cabin on December 7, 1941 when the news came on the radio about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Don remembers having a sense of Americans becoming unified to win the war after that event. Military recruiters came to his high school to give the boys IQ tests. Don was part of the Army Specialized Training Program and he scored very high. He had his picture in the newspaper and was told to wait to be drafted.
Don shipped out to the European theater and arrived at Omaha Beach sixty days after D-Day in 1944. 15,000 new troops had arrived and camped in a grassy field. They were issued a fork, knife and spoon, but many men just kept the spoon and filed the end to use it as a knife. Don remembers that water was put into clean garbage cans and heated to warm their rations. They had baked beans, beef stew or pork stew. He said they first had C- rations and, later, K rations which were much better.
Don was in the 9th Armored Division at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, which was fought in the freezing cold from December 16th, 1944, through January 25th, 1945. It was the last German offensive on the Western Front, an unsuccessful attempt to divide the Allied forces and prevent an invasion of Germany. The “bulge” refers to the wedge that the Germans drove into the Allied lines. The Nazis hoped to divide the line, encircle the Allies and destroy them. Fortunately, the Allied line “bulged” but it didn’t break. Thousands of heroic men died at the Bulge. It was a turning point of the war.
Years later Don received a Christmas card from a war buddy: a photo of the American soldiers marching in white sheets during the battle. It had been a cold, snowy day in December, and the soldiers had discovered the Germans were camouflaged in white, so they took white sheets from abandoned towns and created their own camouflage. When the battle in Belgium was over, a Colonel asked Don where he would like to go next. Don jokingly said, “HOME!”, and they had a good laugh.
The Allied forces came across the bombed, but still intact, bridge on the Rhine River in March 1945. Despite the efforts of the Nazis to destroy all bridges, this one stood, so the Allies were able to cross the bridge. The capture of the bridge at Remagen was important for Americans, since it allowed the Allies to transport troops and tanks across the river into the heartland of Nazi Germany. The bridge finally collapsed a few days later, but the Allies were already where they needed to be.
The Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was unprepared for the Nazi brutality he witnessed at Ohrdruf concentration camp in April 1945. Dead bodies were piled like wood, and the struggling survivors looked like walking skeletons. Even as the Allied Forces continued their fight, Eisenhower foresaw a day when the horrors of the Holocaust might be denied. He invited the media to document the scene. He also compelled Germans living in the surrounding towns and any soldier not fighting at the front to witness the atrocities for themselves. He ordered all troops who were able to visit a camp to witness the horrors of the Holocaust. Don Bein and his fellow soldiers were loaded on buses and taken to be witnesses to the horrors of Bergen-Belson concentration camp. He said seeing what happened to the Jewish prisoners there was the worst day of his life. One memory he recalled was of a room full of crutches that were once used by people with disabilities, all killed by the Nazis.
The top surviving German leaders were tried for Nazi Germany’s crimes, including the crimes of the Holocaust. Their trial was held before an International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg, Germany. Don served as a guard in Nuremberg before being transferred to duties in a German chocolate factory, where the military was using refrigeration to store food for the troops.
After the war, in the fall of 1948, Don was going on a blind date near Fort Dodge, Iowa when the woman became ill. The substitute date that night was Alice Kathryn Coulter. In the summer of 1949, Alice and Don were married. They had three children, Miriam, Martha and Paul. They celebrated 70 years of loving life with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Don had a successful career as a businessman and, also, he was a teacher for many years. His sister Lois married Dr. Bruce Freeman who was an all-state football player. Bruce served in the Pacific and was sent in to help survivors after the bomb fell at Hiroshima. Twenty years later, he was diagnosed with cancer due to the exposure to radioactive material in Japan.
In 2002, Don told a newspaper reporter that he is simply still carrying out General Eisenhower’s orders to him and other soldiers to bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust and share what they saw. He received an award from the Jewish Federation of Rockford, Illinois for his work in Holocaust Education. His words: “General Eisenhower found out about these horrible places, and he visited several of them. When he found out how bad they really were, he ordered the army to send men in there as quickly as possible to witness what these horror stories were. He didn’t want somebody covering it up.”
Don says he’s lived a wonderful life. “In spite of the war, I’ve had a life that’s just unbelievable and I thank the Lord,” he said.
Aidan (left) and Ariah (right) Quimby with WWII Veteran Don Bein July 4, 2022
Aidan says, “You won’t know about your future until you look at the history of the past. If you focus only on what you left behind you will never be able to see what lies ahead.” He is grateful to have written Don’s story and hopes you enjoy it.
Don Bein – A Wonderful Life
Written by Aidan Quimby
Illustrated by Ariah and Aidan Quimby
Illustrations by Ariah and Aidan Quimby