York Town Square

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Part I: Add war hero Col. William H. Beckner as a York County, Pa., ‘servant of civility’

Col. William H. Beckner was known for many community activities, but perhaps his best-known achievement came as Civilian Defense coordinator in the York area in World War II. In that capacity, he directed defensive measures in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Also of interest: Pearl Harbor: ‘I always said we would never know the real thing if it would ever happen’ and York County Pearl Harbor survivor: ‘We need to prevent attacks of that nature’ and The first to die in (World) War (II) …and Part II: Add war hero Col. William H. Beckner … .

The Daily Record/Sunday News Editorial Board recently put 20 “servants of civility” under the spotlight and asked readers to nominate others for recognition.
We’re still collecting names, and here’s a nomination from a promoter of the peace from the past.
Col. William H. Beckner served as civilian defense director in World War II. There’s a play on that civility theme again.
When he spoke with the authoritative voice coming from experience as an officer in World War I, people listened.
Consider these excerpts from my World War II book “In the thick of the fight:”

Col. William H. Beckner, local Civilian Defense director, emerged from a closed-door meeting with a call for voluntary service on the home front. The World War I officer would hold a litany of official-sounding titled during the long war, but he would serve as the point person on most local defense programs.
“This is an ‘all out’ program for the defense of York,” he said, “and every citizen will be required to do his or her duty.”
He released a list of assignments in the event of an attack on York and its extensive factories engaged in military production.
“York is a target to the new type of warfare. For the present, we do not expect long, sustained repeated attacks,” he said. “This is a war not so much of armies and navies as of production. We can get out of this mess only if we can produce. There must be no retarding of our national production.”
The government had proclaimed York as a vital defense area, Beckner said. Its factories must continue to produce for the military, regardless of hardship.
“Therefore, it is our job to deprive ourselves of leisure moments,” he said, “and devote our time and thought to make sure the wheels of industry are kept moving.”

Col. Beckner was not only concise and erudite in his admonitions, he was right.
Among other things, the war turned into a race of who could produce the most, the fastest.
So, let’s list Col. William H. Beckner as a posthumous “servant of civility.”
Background on the Colonel
Some months ago, Martin Beckner, William Beckner’s son provided this information on the colonel:

“My father was a big man – 6’3” and 210 pounds. He was born on July 24, 1885 in Winchester, Kentucky and died on June 17, 1961 in York, Pennsylvania. He was buried in the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, PA with full military honors. He came from a well-to-do family. His father, William Morgan Beckner, was born in Moorefield, KY on June 19, 1841. He was a very busy man serving as a teacher, lawyer, prosecuting attorney, city and county judge and served in both the state house of representatives and the in the Federal Fifty-third Congress. In addition, he established the Clark County (KY.) Democrat-a newspaper which he owned and edited for a number of years. He served as State Prison Commissioner, State Railroad Commissioner and as a member of the State Constitutional Convention. As a lawyer, my grandfather represented various firms and one his primary clients was the Hardwood Industry. Although my father wanted to be a lawyer, like his father and brother, his father discouraged the idea and insisted that the lumber industry was the place to follow to be a success. So my father followed his advice.
“My father was an acorn that didn’t fall far from the tree. Throughout his life, he was a “doer” and was involved in many activities. He handled his enrollment with honors and became a real “Big Man On Campus” by his senior year. He was very competitive and had an athletic build. Consequently, he was a halfback and captain of the football team, a sprinter and captain of the track team. He exhibited leadership skills by being the captain of the Corps of Cadets in his senior year, President of the Electrical Engineering club, editor of The Bomb (VMI Yearbook) and even Secretary of the Student Christian Association.
“When he graduated in 1907 with a degree in Electrical Engineering, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army. After working for several years in Cincinnati, OH, World War I was on the horizon. He immediately enlisted and was sent to Kentucky where he was promoted to Captain and organized a company of artillery forces. After serving in France as commander of the 115th Artillery, he returned home 1917 with rank of Major. He subsequently served in the reserves for 20 years finally being discharged with the rank of Colonel. He counted many well known Generals from the First World War as his friends from his days in the service.
“One of my finest memories of my youth was walking down the streets of York with my father. Virtually everyone we passed knew him. He was a very important man in the town. He was involved in many community activities including the Rotary Club, where he served as President and District Governor; the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; he was very active in the American Legion serving twice as Post Commander; active in the Civilian Conservation Corps; instrumental in bringing minor league baseball to York where he served on the board of directors for many years; he was Civil Defense Commander for the county during World War II; named the Golden Deeds Award winner in 1943 for his community service and ran for County Commissioner on the Independent ticket in 1946. Of course, he lost the election as an independent but gave the politicians a good battle. I always considered him the most influential man in town without a substantial amount of money. We lived a very comfortable life in a very loving home.”

Also of interest:
– Nominate your York County servants of civility here.
View the initial list of names of 20 servants of civility.
All Yorktownsquare.com World War II posts from the start.
All York Town Square posts from the start. Then use “find” function on browser to search for keywords.
– Of course, you can always search for York Town Square posts on Google. For example, when you search for yorktownsquare and World War II, you get this.