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Our Family’s 20th Century History in Biographies .. 20
Alison D. (Berger) Boor

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Russell Arthur Berger, November 21, 1920 - February 21, 2001, age 80
Elizabeth Mae (Betty Mae) Stevens 1922– April 7, 1975, Buried at Pleasant View
Donna Elisabeth Dean Killion, January 16, 1920 – September 23, 1991
Brill Beck (Smith), born 1918 in Philadelphia, died Feb. 13, 2003 in West Brandywine, PA
Russ and Brill buried at Philadelphia Memorial Park, Chester County

Russ & BettyMom always thought Uncle Russ looked like Ronald Reagan. She also says he was a brilliant guy, but he always said he didn’t want to be a speaker at graduation, so he didn’t study much. I heard him say that following Boppy in school was difficult because she was always at the top of her class. He graduated from Wilson on May 22, 1938 and played a violin quartet at commencement. (Somehow we know that the violin cost $63.50.) He missed being class president by one vote.

Russ was in Scouting but got turned off it. He got a lot of his ailments from Scouting—once he was on a camping trip and they were playing Tarzan and he fell and hit his head and they had to bring him home. Another time they were collecting newspapers and he jumped off the truck and hit his head and they had to bring him home again! His sisters were alone that night, and Kathryn sent Betty down to church to get Nana and Poppop from choir rehearsal. He did much better as the master councilor in the Reading Chapter of DeMolay, an organization sponsored by the Knights Templar “for boys of good character between the ages of 15 and 21.” Poppop was very proud of him for being the “high mucky muck” and took four hours off from work one day to see him in action with this organization.

He learned to drive in 1937, and very generously offered to teach Kathryn when she was home from college. We know he graduated from Wyomissing Polytechnic School after a two-year course. We also know that he dated June before she met and married Uncle Guy (Dad’s brother).

In August of 1940, he got a job as a “detail draftsman” in the Drafting Room at Textile Machine Works. He met Betty Mae Stevens on September 15, 1940, at Miller’s ice cream shop. She worked at the “Berky” (Berkshire Hosiery Mill in West Reading) which was associated with Textile, and they used to see each other at noontime. There are some Japanese cherry trees over there, and they used to sit on the nearby benches for lunch. As soon as Aunt Flora knew that Russ was going with Betty Mae she checked with the mailman who delivered Betty Mae’s mail (remember Uncle Dan worked for the Post Office) to see what she was like. Betty Mae wrote to a lot of soldiers, she had a lot of friends, but she never was serious about any of them.

Elizabeth Mae Stevens was born in Reading to V. Ross and Helen Bierbower Stevens. She was one of five sisters, the others being: Ethel Deeds, Shirley Loose, Leone Eastwood and Claire Loller.

Dissatisfied with his job at Textile, he applied for and received a job in Waynesboro, PA. When Poppop noticed how much time he was spending on the road between Waynesboro and Reading to see Betty Mae, he suggested they get married, so they did on January 31, 1941. She was 19, he was 21. She had not been brought up in a church and was confirmed at their wedding rehearsal; she had her first communion when she and Russ communed together during their wedding ceremony (no one else in attendance communed). Their wedding day was rainy, and Boppy drove in to pick up Betty Mae and her father. Her sister Ethel didn’t come because she had just had a baby, but her other sisters attended. Betty Mae wore a powder blue street length dress with a matching felt hat, maroon accessories and a corsage of white roses and gardenias. The reception, for about 35 people, was held at 103.

Their daughter Kerrie Marie was born in Waynesboro on October 5, 1943. Their living arrangements in Waynesboro were a little dicey; they suspected that the people in the downstairs apartment went through their things when they were out. Once they strung threads across the doors and they were broken by the time they got back; which I guess proves it. On September 15, 1943, they celebrated their 36th (month!) anniversary—it was three years since the day they met. Betty Mae made a cake with three candles, lovebirds and flowers decorating it. At least some times, Nana brought their laundry home to wash for them.

Shortly afterwards, Russ was drafted into the Army and Betty Mae and Kerrie moved into 103 Perkasie with the family. He began in March of 1944 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where the family was able to visit occasionally when they could find gas for the car. Betty Mae went down at least once for a dance. His training included rifle instruction and obstacle courses; he noticed himself becoming more physically fit. He studied small arms at a technical school. By May of 1945 he was a corporal in Camp Beale, CA, and then “somewhere in California” and “somewhere in the Pacific” on a Navy transport. By July 1 he had landed in Manila. His letters home tried to be upbeat, but conditions weren’t like home—although he often said things could be worse. He wrote that he ate every meal outside with the flies and never wanted to picnic again when he got home. At first the food was pretty good, but by October it wasn’t. He never wanted to see fruit cocktail or coconut again. The family sent him tropical chocolates.

Cold water was a luxury; ice in your drinking water was few and far between. Manila was a “stinking, muddy old beaten-up city.” He needed a towel next to him while writing letters to wipe off his hands, and had to steam the envelopes open. At first he heard plenty of shooting from the Japanese troops still left on the island, although he was never directly involved. At first the Philippines were hired to do some of the labor, but Russ began doing his own laundry when he realized that they were washing his clothes in dirty water (probably sewage).

7/9/45, Manila - This afternoon I’m on guard it’s supposed to be a pretty good deal. Orders are to shoot anyone on sight. I don’t know how I’m going to like this place.”

He worked at the 21st Replacement Depot where his main job was to house and ship men with high points back home. Sometimes the orders came at midnight; you got up, did your job (like making shipping lists), and went back to bed at 2:30 or so. Occasionally he left the 21st for other assignments in rougher territory where there were no showers and they bathed from water in their helmets. The work he did in these places was “unmentionable”—the censors would have cut it from the letters. Yet he was glad he had not attended OCS and become an officer—he had very little respect for them. There were some racial problems in the American Army in the Philippines, but he reported none at his base—all men were treated equally.

It rained a good deal, even when the rainy season was over.

7/25/45, Luzon - “…I will be glad when I can sit down on a chair, upholstered, instead of a bunk, and when I can sit down at a table and eat from a plate, instead of standing and eating out of a mess kit. I’m not complaining, because things could be a lot worse. The strangest part of it all is how you gradually come to accept anything over here. For instance when you first come you try to dodge the mud. After awhile you just go wading through mud up to your shoe tops and think nothing of it.”

Once he got an 11 day furlough to Baglio, where there were hot water showers, a golf course, tennis, volleyball and ice cream. Located on top of a mountain, he said it was the most beautiful spot in the Philippines and took lots of photos.

He was disgusted by a lot of what he saw in the Philippines, from the stealing and unsanitary behavior of the people (“everything smells”) to the behavior of the American troops. Very few soldiers did not take advantage of the readily available Philippine women. “The Army has ruined the characters of more men. And it has turned them bitter.” He was able to avoid most of the jungle illnesses, but did develop fungus in his ear several times. He was able to meet up with his friend Tony (his best man), and next-door neighbor, George Zigenfus.

He bought Nana a tea set, and himself a “Jap” rifle. He spent spare time making things, like a bracelet for Kerrie, and a pillow for himself made out of a Jeep seat. He learned to print photos. He bought Betty Mae a tortoise shell bracelet and earrings and two pieces of jade that he hoped to make into earrings. He spent a lot of his letters to his parents organizing a watch to be bought for her for Christmas, and how he would pay for it. (Of course, she eventually found out about it, although he swore he hadn’t mentioned anything!) Once he included $5 so they could buy her red roses for their anniversary. “This is our fourth anniversary. It sure doesn’t seem that long. The first two years really flew by and the third went fast, but this last year, well that’s different entirely. Every day is like a week, every week like a month and every month like eternity.”

On August 10 they celebrated the end of the war when the search lights formed a V, and guns, flares and whistles were set off. In a letter of August 11, he was disgusted—the men had heard that Americans back home were not celebrating and wanted the war to continue. Rumors of all kinds were rampart, especially rumors about when they could go home. His letters are a series of hopes that he could go home early, counting points, counting years in service. His letters end in March of 1946, so I assume he was able to return home shortly after that.

10/3/45, Marakina - “I guess now that the war is over a good many people will forget the God they found during the war. You’ve often heard the saying there aren’t any atheists in foxholes, but a good many of the foxhole converts are going to leave God right there in the foxhole and I’ve met a few of them.” By January 1946 the 21st was closed, and he was moved to the 29th. There was lot of griping by the men that ships were being sent home empty, with the excuse that they weren’t enough replacement men. “Why occupy the Philippines when it’s supposed to be an ally?” Time hung heavy for him, with not much to do but lie on his bunk day after day. “If I can hold up under the strain and not go psycho then I’ll be home in July or August.” “After two years of Army life, patriotism is something I haven’t got.”

It was still hot, although he mentioned some “cold weather” in January—it was down to 70 degrees: “any minute I expect to see some snow.” By February he wrote, “The nights are beautiful these days. A big bright moon—stars and white clouds. I sure wish I could bring a beautiful night along back. That’s about the only thing that lives up to what I would look for in the tropics.” He figured that he would earn an overseas bar with five service ribbons: Good Conduct, American Theater, Victory, Asiatic Pacific with battle star, and Philippines Liberation.

After he returned home, Poppop arranged for him to attend Penn State on the GI Bill, and by November of 1946 Russ, Betty Mae and Kerrie were living in a small trailer on $90 a month. The trailer park had a communal bathroom, and no running water in the trailers. Later they moved to a double trailer. By that time he had been out of high school for six years, and had some adjustments to make. Betty Mae took Home Economics evening courses while they were there. He graduated first in his class of 50 mechanical engineers in 1949.

After his graduation, he got a job at GE in Lynn, Massachusetts, and they moved to Nahant, near Marblehead, where they lived in a rented place near the ocean. They then moved to Medford. They adjusted to life in New England; Betty Mae noted that Russ would be taking his Massachusetts drivers test, ”I guess it won’t be hard to pass, judging by the way they drive up here,” she wrote. They found new friends and pursuits (“Russ went fishing and had his usual luck—no fish.”) Several old friends also ended up in Massachusetts; Boppy’s friends Joyce and George Wenrich, and Russ’s high school friend Zieber Stetler (his sister Mary Jane was Bop’s friend). Everyone thought the baby that was due would be a boy, even Betty Mae’s mother’s tea leaves confirmed this, but Kathy Jo was born in Medford on October 4, 1949.

When they bought the house in Rowley at 124 Turnpike, the country estate of an old Boston doctor (Mary Alice says the land is called Hunsley Hills and there are now public hiking trails there), there was some concern that Kerrie, who had been born with a heart defect, wouldn’t be able to walk up the long driveway after school, but she managed it. She used to get really out of breath because she had a long flight of stairs to climb too. The house had 10 acres of woodland, a tennis court in the lower field, and a three story carriage house. They used to have dances in the barn/garage. Betty Mae worked hard taming the brambles and making a nice yard and garden—at first the brush came right up to the house. She also worked hard indoors, especially in the kitchen, because at first the stove was in one room, the sink was in a second room, and the refrigerator was in a third! Russ put in a knotty pine kitchen for her. The West Lawn family always loved going up there to visit. Russ’s summer jobs around the house included spraying for mosquitoes, which could be pretty bad.

The biggest crisis of their lives came in 1951, when Kerrie died. Probably it was the largest tragedy for the entire family, and something no one ever really got over.

But other daughters kept coming: Mary Alice in 1952, Margaret Louise in 1953, Barbara Ann in 1958 and Heidi Jean in 1964. I imagine life there was fairly lively when all five daughters were living there, in a house with one bathroom!

In 1961 Russ received a managerial award for his work on turbo boost pumps for the Centaur space vehicle, and at some point he presented a technical paper before the Society for Experimental Stress Analysis. Dad remembers visiting one time when Russ got called into the office and asked Dad to come along. They had to put on hats and robes to go into a special room and look at the problem object. “They had this thing on a table and we walked around it a bit; he asked for a screwdriver, made a few adjustments, gave it back and said we could go. It took maybe five minutes.” Dad thought it had something to do with the Atlas missile—a control on the side to help it keep track. At some point, the entire family was investigated by the FBI before he got the job; Mom has no idea how she knows this!

For many years he was very involved with First Congregational church in Rowley, even giving layman sermons. He was also on the building committee for Triton Regional High School, where both Barbara and Heidi graduated.

On April 7, 1975, after a terrible fight against cancer of the bile duct and liver, Betty Mae died at Cable Memorial Hospital in Ipswich. This was the second great tragedy of his life.

Russ married Donna Killian in November of 1975; a widow with four children. They continued to live in Rowley until his retirement, (after 35 years in turbine division of General Electric) when they moved to Hershey’s Mill, Pennsylvania. Donna died of complications from lupus in 1991. He married Brill Beck in 1993, and she survived him, passing away in 2003. He died in 2001, at age 80.



Linked to  Alison D. (Berger) Boor
Russell Arthur Berger (40124) 
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