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Sykes Lee Beasley

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

George Orwell

Sykes Lee Beasley, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Beasley, was born on March 12, 1908, in Asbury, North Carolina. Details of Beasley’s early life are vague, but it appears that he was not raised by his mother, as he is listed in the U.S. Federal Census with only his father. Beasley earned a high school diploma and worked as a barber before he enlisted in the United States Navy Reserves on February 5, 1942. He was 33 years old at the start of his military career. Sykes Beasley became a seaman first class.

Seaman First Class Beasley lived in Welch in McDowell County, West Virginia. Although he was not a native-born West Virginian, he lived in the state for ten years as an adult. Sfc. Beasley worked as a barber at two local barber shops, Freeman’s Barber Shop and Hash’s Barber Shop in Welch, West Virginia. He was a member of the Welch Moose Lodge. Beasley never married and had no children.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan. The United States declared war the next day and joined the Allied Forces to fight against the Axis Powers, which included Germany, Italy, and Japan. The war was not leaning in favor of the Allies until June 6, 1944: D Day. World War II was well underway, and America was involved when Sfc. Beasley’s military career began. He died before the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain stormed the beaches of Normandy.

Beasley’s military career was very linear. He was a gun-boat operator and a barber in the Navy Reserves. Ultimately, he was stationed on the USS Turner as a barber. Sfc. Beasley was never deployed overseas during his military career, which lasted less than two years until his untimely death. The average age of a Navy reservist in 1942 was 30 years old. Beasley was slightly older when he enlisted.

Sfc. Sykes Lee Beasley died on January 3, 1944, while on board the USS Turner. World War II was ongoing when this veteran died. The USS Turner exploded and sank just off Sandy Hook, New Jersey. At the time, no statement was released about the cause of the explosion on the ship. Beasley along with approximately 130 others went down with the ship, but of the 276-member crew, more than 136 survived. Also during the explosion, the Coast Guard used its first helicopter to transport blood plasma.

USS Turner (DD-648) on the East River in New York City near the Williamsburg Bridge, courtesy U. S. Navy

As of 2016, the 130 victims of the Turner explosion were still officially missing, but a World War II researcher has found papers indicating that at least for of them are buried as unknowns in a Long Island military cemetery. As a result, the Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has attempted to find files relating to those unknowns. If additional Turner casualties’ remains are buried there, some families might gain closure. Beyond military records, DNA analysis might also contribute to the solution of the mystery. This leaves the hope that at some point, it might be discovered whether Sfc. Beasley went down with the ship or is buried as an unknown in the New York cemetery. (Chris Carola, “Pentagon Launches Effort to Solve WWII Mystery,” Associated Press story, February 2017.)

Sfc. Beasley is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the East Coast Memorial in New York City. His death was announced in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph newspaper on January 15, 1944. The death announcement for Sykes Lee Beasley and another veteran read, “A McDowell county soldier and sailor have given their lives in the service of their country, the respective families having been notified by the war and navy departments.”

Sfc. Sykes Lee Beasley was born in North Carolina and memorialized in New York, but lived as a West Virginian. He enlisted during a time of war, and he gave his life for his country. He was not mourned by a wife or children, but he will always be remembered in West Virginia.

William Grass and Christian Vasquez, George Washington High School, JROTC
December 2017


Sykes Lee Beasley

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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