Brian Berkey received his chemical engineering degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974 and has worked in the chemical industry, primarily in the environmental, health and safety area since then. While semi-retired he continues to work as a consultant with various clients in chemical process safety management. Brian is also an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and serves as a part-time pastor at a small church in Chester County, PA. He lives in Elkton, MD but also spends a lot of time in Bedford, PA. He and his wife, Emily, were married in 1974 and have two sons and five grandchildren. Brian and his wife have lived in Cecil County since 1989 when he moved to the area and worked in Wilmington for Hercules Incorporated. While he has worked as an engineer during his adult life, he has had a life-long passion for all types of history as well as his family history. More than 25 years ago, his Aunt Mary and other family members passed on the letters that had been sent home from his father, Bob Berkey, during his time in the Army Air Force in World War II. Brian took the letters and incorporated them with some historical information from the Johnstown Tribune into a book as a gift for his father. Some years later, he had the opportunity to include some additional family history in the form of his grandmother Berkey’s diaries, resulting in this book about the experiences of his family during the extraordinary time of World War II.
In November 1941, the war that had been raging in Europe since 1939 and in China since 1937 was coming closer and closer to the United States. The US had instituted the draft in 1940 and on November 4, 1941, more than a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the war came home to the family of Annie and Harvey Berkey on their farm near Elton, PA. That was the day when their middle son, Bob, received his draft notice. This book presents something of their experience of the war through a compilation of the letters that his family received from Bob as well as entries from Annie’s diaries and the headlines and articles from their local newspaper, the Johnstown Tribune. It is a story of how an ordinary farm family from the hills of western Pennsylvania coped with the extraordinary circumstances of being caught up in a global conflict. The story is set within a concise history of the major events of the war to tell the overall tale.
Many folks today may feel that the outcome of World War II was inevitable, that the Allies were destined to eventually overcome the Axis powers. However, in the dark days of late 1941 and early 1942, it certainly did not look that way. It took a nation working together to achieve the victory. While the German and Japanese leaders recognized the potential capacity of the United States, they really did not believe the American people would be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to winning a long drawn-out war. Of course, events proved them wrong but not before most of the nation were impacted in many different ways both at home and at the front.
This story is simply the story of World War II told along with the experiences of one of the many ordinary families who rose to the occasion in many ways during those years. It is not about the generals and admirals or the major battles or the pivotal moments. It is about the ordinary men and women who worked together to accomplish something truly extraordinary. Tom Brokaw has referred to the folks from this time period as “The Greatest Generation” and this is one example of how a farm family coped with the situation.