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Cardinal Charlie: Gen. Custer visited Walter Beckwith

Published 5:12pm Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I was going through some of Berenice Vanderburg’s columns that I cut out years ago, but didn’t put the date on this one.

She wrote Norbert Swierz knows what day this is, it was 10 years ago today that “Old Ironsides,” his plane, went down and he was wounded.

And guess where he is today, back in the force and moving to Selfridge field with his family.

Norbert, who spent 19 months in a German prison camp, is a reservist.

I had to do a little research, but I went out and got his book of his life he gave me last year. I found out it was June 22, 1943.

Norb and I exchanged our books last spring when I saw his picture in the Benton Harbor paper and tracked him down.

We have become good friends and he and his wife Muriel hope to get up to Michigan from their home in Florida to see us.

He had a life that would make a good movie. He told me he was going to come out with a book of his days in the German POW camp, Stalag 17, but one of his friends beat him to it.

Not too long ago, Norbert sent me a copy of this book and it is full of pictures and written description.

Norb said some of the pictures were taken by him, and he said if you had been caught, it could have been your death.

Here is something I found of interest in an old Daily News. When we see the name of Beckwith we always think of P.D. Beckwith. In my research of old Dowagiac, I found out there was another Beckwith I’d never heard of, Walter G. Beckwith.

He was temporarily living in Dowagiac, and Gen. George Custer made several visits to Mr. Beckwith here in Dowagiac to consult him about his horses.

Mr. Beckwith owned 808 acres in Jefferson (Jefferson Township, I presume).

Later this property became E. Lowitz’s, the president of Cass County State Bank (I once had an old $5 bill that had on the face, printed in large, black letters, the name of this bank).

I also found that Walter Beckwith was once the sheriff of Cass County and used to meet and escort famous speakers when they came to this state. When Daniel Webster once spoke in Michigan, Mr. Beckwith was on a committee to meet and escort him. Beckwith also had a shoe store in Dowagiac at one time.

Before World War I, Dowagiac High School won the state baseball championship two years in a row.

High schools were not classified in those days. Size didn’t seem to matter.

1962: Here is a good one. In her column, Berenice said she now has a new name for huckleberries, “Yogiberries.”

When Betty Phillips made a huckleberry pie, Bruce and Betty’s son Davey said he wanted a piece of Yogiberry pie.

Folks were stumped for a while until they remembered TV’s Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound.

“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City. Email him at

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