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Robert S. Beightler (March 21, 1892 – February 12, 1978) was an American military officer and Ohio political insider, engineer, and business owner. In the military, he reached the rank of major general, and served as military Governor of Okinawa, War Department General Staff, and as commander of the 37th Infantry Division, the only National Guard General to lead his troops through training and into battle during World War Two. In political activities in Ohio, he served as head of the Ohio State Highway Department, President of the Army Personnel Board, Executive Director and board member of the Ohio Turnpike Commission.
Beightler was the only World War II National Guard general to have commanded his division for the length of the war. In addition to being one of only eleven generals who commanded their divisions for the entire warand the longest serving of these eleven, Beightler was appointed to the regular army in 1946 as one of only two National Guard major generals to receive such an appointment at that time.
Beightler was born on March 21, 1892 in Marysville, Ohio, of German-British descent. He was the son of William P. Beightler, an elected local surveyor, city and state engineer. His father was also the president of the Perfect Cigar Company. His mother was Joana Sprague, daughter of Franklin Sprague. Franklin was a businessman active in raising the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry Regiment for the Union during the American Civil War, as well as a local judge in Delaware County, Ohio. Her mother was Joana Leeds. Sprague River in Oregon is named after Franklin. Through his mother's side, he is a descendant of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and William Wallace.
Beightler's paternal ancestors came from Germany, having immigrated to and settled in Berks County, Pennsylvania in the 18th century. His last name is derived from Bigler. In the early 19th century, those ancestors were some of the first pioneers of the western United States, first settling in eastern Ohio, and eventually in Marysville. They had served in the American Revolution, and would serve as well in the American Civil War, among other early United States conflicts.
Beightler was raised in a Protestant home that stressed church, community, service, duty, and patriotism. They lived on the westside of Marysville on 7th street. As a young man he learned from his father's industriousness and grew vegetables in the back yard to sell door to door. He was an excellent student, and avid hunter, having been quoted saying "from the time I was knee high to a grasshopper, (I had a rifle in my hands)."
After graduating from Marysville High School in 1909, he enrolled at The Ohio State University for two years. While there he studied civil engineering, was active is Sigma Alpha Epsilon, trained as a cadet, and was manager of the basketball team. Following the two years at OSU, Beightler left to take employment as an assistant engineer with Union County.
While he was in college, he met his future wife Anna Lawrence Porter, who was a student at Ohio Wesleyan University. Her father was an executive with the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, and her grandfather was a judge in Union County. They would marry on October 14, 1914 and have three children, two who lived, Robert Jr., and Marjorie. Beightler's best man at this wedding was John W. Bricker, the future Governor of Ohio, U.S. Senator, and 1944 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee.
National Guard enlistment
On August 7, 1911, Beightler had enlisted with the Ohio National Guard. He was part of the 4th Ohio Infantry, which had been re-organized from the 14th Ohio National Guard. Beightler served with Company E, based out of an armory in Marysville. By 1913 Beightler had achieved the rank of first sergeant, and second lieutenant by 1914.
In August 1916, President Woodrow Wilson mobilized 400,000 troops from across the nation, including from the Ohio National Guard, to be sent to the Mexican border to deal with the border crisis and Pancho Villa. The forces were led by John J. Pershing. A young Beightler would serve in this conflict.
World War One
On August 5, 1917, Beightler was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, serving as an adjutant for the 3rd Battalion. The 4th infantry would be designated the 166th U.S Infantry Regiment by the U.S. War Department. Beightler would be moved to Camp Mills on Long Island in preparation for deployment to France in the European theater of World War One.
Before departing for Europe in October 1917, Anne would visit to wish Robert well and inform him that they were expecting their first child. Upon arriving in France, Beightler's regiment undertook basic training operations, including learning the French language. He would be involved in the Sedan incident, as well as other combat during his time stationed in France.
Post-World War One civilian life
Following the war, he returned home to Ohio in 1919. Re-entering civilian life, he worked as an engineer for the state in Columbus over requests by his father to work in Union County as an engineer. His daughter was over a year old after he left the military, and the young family moved to Columbus to be closer to Beightler's employment. Columbus was also a booming city with many opportunities.
Beightler would complete his engineering degree at OSU. He would also start a private civil engineering firm with Adolph Stellhorn. He went on to Command and General Staff School in Leavenworth, Kansas, to complete a course on National Guard Officers where he was first in his class. In 1930, he graduated from the Army War College's G-2 course.
Return to active duty
In 1932, Beightler returned to active duty, serving with the Army General Staff in Washington D.C. This exposed him to the highest levels of the Army, something rarely afforded to National Guard officers. He would spend most of his time working on plans for the Interstate Highway System.
In 1936 he returned to Ohio, working as chief of staff for the 37th Infantry Division, and commander of the 74th Infantry Brigade. Having earned the opportunity, in 1939 his longtime friend John W. Bricker, who had become Governor of Ohio, appointed Beightler to Ohio State Highway Director. In 1940, Bricker would appoint Beightler commanding General of the 37th Infantry Division.
Training the 37th Infantry Division
Beightler assumed his duties as commanding General of the division in 1940, and immediately began exhaustive training and preparation of the soldiers. His philosophy was simple, the better trained the soldiers are, the less casualties there would be. He also had moral reasoning, having been quoted after World War Two saying "... I have never been able to completely harden myself to the sacrifice of American lives. I have always felt a deep-seated responsibility to the families of these men, many of whom might be called my neighbors."
The 37th would participate in the Louisiana Maneuvers, in which future senior military leaders Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Omar Bradley, and Leslie McNair were present. McNair would say of Beightler that he was "one of the best" National Guard commanders. A few months later, America would be thrown into World War Two following the Pearl Harbor attacks.
World War Two
Following the training of the 37th, Beightler would lead them into battle in the Pacific theater of the war. The "Buckeye Division," as the 37th was called, entered the theater in 1942. The 37th were victorious in numerous battles, including victories at New Georgia, Bougainville and at the Battle of Manila. They would go on to liberate 1300 internees at the Bilibid Prison in Baguoi.
The Buckeye Division produced 7 Medal of Honor recipients during this war. Beightler was the only National Guard commanding officer to have led his troops throughout the course of the entire war. They were demobilized in November 1945.
On September 5, 1945, Beightler accepted the articles of surrender from Major General Iguchi, Commanding General, 80th Brigade, Imperial Japanese Army, in Luzon, Philippines.
At the end of the war, Beightler was the only World War II National Guard general to have commanded his division for the length of the war. In addition to being the army's longest serving division commander in 1945, Beightler was appointed to the regular army in 1946 as one of only two National Guard major generals to receive such an appointment at that time. Following the war, Beightler was assigned command of the 5th Service Command at Fort Hayes in Columbus. In 1947, he was appointed President of the Personnel Board of the Secretary of War, moving back to Washington. In 1949, he was assigned to the Far East, taking over the Marianas-Bonins Command on Guam.
Military Governor of Okinawa
In 1950, he was appointed the Deputy Military Governor of Okinawa, as well as the Deputy Governor of the Ryukyus Islands Command. During this period he dedicated most of his time toward rebuilding the infrastructure of the Ryukyus Islands. Following a massive heart attack in 1952, one of nine Beightler would suffer throughout his life, he was flown to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. Beightler retired from the military after 42 years of service, in 1953.
Beightler had been involved in politics since his return from World War One. He was a lifelong critic of too much federal power, and constantly feuded with Washington in defending the National Guard. He was a staunch conservative in the classical liberal sense, believing in the freedom of the States and a skeptic of the federal government.
He was active in the Ohio Republican Party, having been a longtime friend of John W. Bricker, and close friends of Ohio Republican leader Ed Schorr and U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Presidential Son Robert A. Taft. He had extensive media contacts in Ohio, from Preston Wolfe at the Columbus Dispatch, David Baylor and Carl George of WGAR Cleveland, Gene DiMario of the Cincinnati Post, and Robert Harper of the Ohio State Journal that he would use to the 37th's advantage in a dispute with the War Department in Washington, as well as to keep up on the political environment personally. At one point he was the mayor of Marble Cliff, Ohio, a tony hamlet just outside downtown Columbus. He was an alternate delegate from the Ohio delegation to the 1940 Republican National Convention.
In the spring of 1945 the Ohio Republican Party attempted to draft Beightler to run for Governor against Frank Lausche in 1946. His candidacy was urged by Bricker, and Ohio Congressman Clarence J. Brown. This would have provided early key endorsements. Hundreds of insider Republicans wrote to Beightler stating he would have their support, would easily clinch the Republican nomination for Governor, and could defeat Lausche.
However, citing the lack of a completely unified party around his potential candidacy, he didn't want to cause a factional split in the party. He also cited the unlikelihood that he could beat Lausche because he was a great campaigner, as well as the fact that he agreed with him on almost every issue, in deciding that the attempt was not worthwhile. His decision was also influenced by the fact he was still engaged in battle in the Pacific theater.
He did write that ending his public career as governor of "the grand old state of Ohio" was an appealing prospect. Beightler miscalculated the political atmosphere, as Lausche would lose by 40,000 votes the following year in a banner year for Republicans.
In 1946, talks circulated again of Beightler running for political office, this time for Congress. However, he said was not interested in a legislative position and called it "a nobody's job."
On November 9, 1950, he sent a letter to Robert A. Taft congratulating him on his Senate re-election victory while stationed in the Pacific. The letter offered a little insight into Beightler's political world, in which he expressed doubt in Dwight Eisenhower being President of the United States, if elected in 1952. The letter discussed a personal meeting with Gen. Douglas MacArthur on the subject, in which Beightler had encouraged MacArthur to run in '52, but MacArthur showed no interest. MacArthur shared the same views as Beightler on Eisenhower, and both would go on to endorse Taft in 1952. In Taft's reply on November 24, 1950, he implies to Beightler that Eisenhower is incompetent and likely to be influenced by money and political endorsements.
After leaving the military in 1953, Beightler would head the Ohio Turnpike Commission, being appointed executive director. Beightler oversaw the construction and completion of the Ohio Turnpike. He resigned as executive director to become a member of the commission, before he retired altogether in 1962.
Retirement and family
Beightler retired officially in 1962 to Worthington, Ohio. Over the years he had been a good investor, and had a large retirement savings. He enjoyed gardening and fishing, and spent his winters in Florida. He followed national and international affairs closely, as well as Wall Street out of interest of his own financial holdings. He was also active in veterans and civic groups.
Beightler had two children with Anne, Robert Jr., who would go onto attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Marjorie. Beightler died on February 12, 1978. He is buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Marysville.
Beightler had said of his hometown “With you, I lived many of my greatest moments, from which I have many of my fondest memories. Memories of Marysville during my 28 years here are among my warmest thoughts.”
Beightler's Historical Marker at 5th Street and Main, Marysville, Ohio
Robert Beightler was the recipient of numerous honors, including the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership in the Philippines campaign, the Silver Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Service Medal for the New Georgia campaign, with an Oak Leaf cluster for his service in Bougainville and Luzon.
On September 25, 1945, Beightler received his 33d degree from the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. In June 1952, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of the Ryukyus for his work in rebuilding the infrastructure. The National Guard armory in Columbus is named in honor of General Beightler. It is the headquarters of the Ohio National Guard.
Beightler's marker at the Veterans Memorial in Marysville, Ohio
In 1969, the city of Marysville, Ohio dedicated 5th Street in honor of Beightler, naming it Major General Robert S. Beightler Way. In 1993, the Ohio Department of Veterans Affairs inducted him into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. In 2007, the Union County, Ohio Chamber of Commerce declared September 28 to be Major General Robert S. Beightler Day.
In 2007, the Ohio Historical Society dedicated an historical marker on 5th Street in Uptown Marysville in honor of Beightler. Hundreds of citizens attended the ceremony, with officials present from the office of Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Senator George Voinovich, and the Ohio National Guard. In 2007, the Ohio Department of Transportation funded his memorial marker at the Veterans Memorial in Marysville, Ohio.