During the depression, a kid from west end dreamed of being a pilot. At that point in time, such a dream seemed like just that -- a dream.
Charles Beard saved up his money from cutting grass. He saved enough to hang out at the still new landing strip in Birmingham that wasn't really even much of an airport at that point.
Smiles were a little hard to find during the tough times of the depression. Charles Beard, as a child, wasn't aware that his family didn't have a whole lot. Most families didn't have much.
But Charles Beard had things money can't buy: dreams, vision, a willingness to work and determination. He learned to fly, and joined the young Army Air Corps as a private.
Charles moved quickly through the ranks. When World War II arrived, he was a co-pilot of an 8th Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress. He flew missions over Europe, and on his 13th mission to Berlin, he and his crew were shot down over Belgium.
"When he was in the war, he was shot down in a foreign country and missing in action and the Belgian people really saved his life. You know, total strangers, and that changed him and impacted him for the rest of his life," his daughter Susan Brouillette said.
When you talk to daughter Susan and son John Beard, you begin to understand what made Charles Beard the man he was. It took months of fighting with the Nazi resistance before he could get back to the American lines after D-Day. That experience changed him.
"He was real quiet about that and he didn't feel... he didn't like the word 'hero' attached to him at all; and I think that was real common of that generation," Susan explained.
After the war, Charles Beard came back to Birmingham and married Mary Sue Graham. They had five children.
Charles Beard went back into service in the Air Force during the Korean War. Later, he was in the oil and gas business. Years later, when finding health care for his own mother was difficult, he decided to start a company specializing in home health care assistance.
It's the company Alacare, run today by daughter Susan Brouillete and son John Beard.
"It's been a great opportunity," John Beard said. "I got to work with him for many years before he passed away, and Susan got to work for him for a pretty long time, and that's a great privilege to work with your parents at a family business."
His children say Charles Beard had a wonderful sense of humor and loved a good party. John said his father would have absolutely loved what happened the day of his funeral while the family waited at the church.
"And, they didn't come, and didn't come, and didn't come and finally the funeral director and everybody and the hearse showed up and they're so embarrassed and apologizing, they're apologizing about being so late," John explained. "They said 'We didn't realize that we were going to be in the Homewood Christmas parade trying to get down to Dawson.' We burst out laughing cause Charlie's up there enjoying the heck out of the fact that he was in the Homewood Christmas parade after he died."
Charlie Beard and the Beard family will be honored at the annual American Cancer Society Hope Gala coming up on Aug. 24. He'll be honored for his vision, his service to his country and his compassion for others.
"My dad was just such a caring person," Susan said. "You know, he really cared about people and he was very generous and did so much to help other people. Throughout my life I saw him sort of live that motto. He really believed in 'you are your brother's keeper.'"
For more information on the Hope Gala, click here.
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