Jerry Beau is a national treasure, not only for his service to his country but also for his service to his fellow Marines and their families.
Beau, 89, served 24 years in the Marine Corps and has spent the last 52 years as the unpaid historian of the Marine Raiders Association, meticulously collecting service records and other information on 7,600 men who served with the elite Marine Raiders during World War II.
"We only have about 200 of the original Raiders left," he said in a recent interview.
|Marine 1st Lt. Jerome Beau, North China, 1946|
Beau has filled 20 file drawers with muster rolls, discharge papers, obituaries and other documents on his fellow Raiders. His files are a gold mine of information for historians, the Raiders and their families.
A few years back, he sent Mrs. Dorothy Lockhart of Peoria, Ill., the war records of her late husband Jess, a Raider doctor in the South Pacific.
"Oh, my, he did a wonderful job," she said of Beau. "On a legal-sized piece of paper, the full front page and half of the back page, he had every place Jess was sent while he was in the Marines, every ship he was on and every landing he made. I was thrilled to death with what he did."
Beau began his own Marine career back in 1940, fresh out of Fond du Lac, Wis.
"They gave me a blanket and a railroad ticket and sent me to Parris Island, South Carolina," he said.
He volunteered when the Raiders were formed in 1942 to operate behind Japanese lines and conduct guerilla-type operations.
"We were special people, you know what I mean?" he said.
He fought with the Raiders on Guadalcanal and Bougainville, but in 1944 the Raiders were deactivated and became the 4th Marines.
"The war was expanding so much," he said, "and they didn't need us little pin-prickers anymore, you know."
Beau retired from the Marines in 1964 but continued as a Raider historian, a duty he had assumed eight years earlier.
"Interesting work," he said. "That's all I work on nowadays besides mowing the lawn and whatnot. I'm widowed so I'm living alone at the moment."
He runs his low-tech operation out of the front room of his home in Boise, Idaho.
"Do you have an e-mail address?" I ask him.
"You know, I'm old-fashioned. I'm still kind of pencil and paper and whatnot."
"Is there a photo of you with all of your files?"
"No. The only picture I have I think is in World War II."
All of his files will one day go to the Marine Corps archives in Quantico, Va.
"Unless some other Raider wants to take it over and continue to get the historical records, you know," he said.
But how can you replace the irreplaceable?
"After 60 some years a lot of that stuff has disappeared," he said. "They can't find it and whatnot."
No, Jerry, I meant you.
John Rutherford is an NBC News Producer based out of the Washington, D.C., bureau and is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at
www.dailynightly.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories").