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Post-9/11 Service and the War on Terror: A Guide to Photo Collections in the Veterans History Project

Joseph Beimfohr

Joseph Beimfohr in Iraq, 2005

Unit: 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
Branch of Service: Army
War / Conflict: Iraq War, 2003-2011

"I've learned that we place the limitations on ourselves as far as what we think we can't do. People will tell guys that are injured 'oh, you won't be able to walk, you won't be able to do this, and you can't do that.' And then we go out and do it." (Audio interview, 57:46)

Joseph Beimfohr enlisted in the Army in 1995 two days after his 17th birthday, with the approval of his grandmother who had raised him. Inspired by a family tradition of military service, as well as the appeal of financial assistance for education, he joined up with the ultimate goal of becoming a law enforcement officer. He was trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky as an armored reconnaissance specialist, also known as a "cavalry scout." In between two year-long stints in South Korea at a camp near the demilitarized zone (DMZ), Beimfohr spent three years back at Fort Knox as an instructor, where he enjoyed passing on his knowledge to a new generation of cavalry scouts.

After his second tour in South Korea, Beimfohr was assigned to Scout Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, with whom he deployed to Iraq in January 2005. The battalion's assigned area of operations was in the vicinity of Baqubah, a city approximately 30 miles north of Baghdad. Beimfohr's platoon was responsible for keeping the main roadways into and around Baqubah clear of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to ensure that logistics convoys could safely transit the area.

The Joseph Beimfohr Collection tells the story of an American soldier who was relentlessly dedicated to protecting his comrades in Iraq, and who was later determined to live the fullest life possible despite suffering grievous wounds from an IED attack.

Training for the Worst

Beimfohr developed a dedication to training early on in his Army career. He recalled that even though it was a difficult environment, he enjoyed learning the new skills he was taught in basic training and individual specialty training. He carried this enthusiasm forward into his time as an instructor for new cavalry scouts at Fort Knox and into his time with the Scout Platoon, 2/34 Armor. In pre-deployment training for Iraq, he got the opportunity to experience urban combat training with Special Forces instructors, which he relished. Perhaps most importantly—given his later experiences—he also insisted that all of the soldiers under his charge trained regularly on emergency medical care, including how to administer IV fluids.

Scout Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment in Fort Riley, Kansas before deployment to Iraq. 2004. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Beimfohr and other soldiers training on administering IVs while in Iraq. 2005. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Providing Security

Beimfohr's platoon was responsible for keeping major roadways around Baqubah clear of IEDs and insurgent attacks, and in this role they went looking for IEDs and also for the people who were responsible for planting them and for attacks on coalition convoys. They frequently found not only IEDs but also large arms caches of personal weapons and bomb-making materials.

Beimfohr in front of a Humvee, Iraq. 2005. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Fellow soldier with cache of weapons laid on the ground for inventory, Iraq. 2005. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

The Scout Platoon of 2/34 Armor demonstrated their value in locating IEDs, arms caches, and insurgents, but were also well aware that ensuring security in their area of operations would depend in large part on their ability to maintain good relations with the majority of the local people. Beimfohr expressed a sympathetic understanding of conditions for the residents of Baqubah - he believed that most had generally positive feelings about the Americans, but lived in fear of the "bad seeds" who would threaten them and their families with death for cooperating with coalition forces (Audio interview, 20:18).

Beimfohr with artillery rounds, Iraq. 2005. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Beimfohr in town with civilians, Iraq. June 17, 2005. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Beimfohr was a firm believer in the importance of decisiveness and aggressive action while conducting counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. He recalled overcoming his own feelings of fear, and also teaching his soldiers to act decisively, even when afraid:

"You can't just sit there and be paralyzed with fear, because you're going to get everybody killed." (Audio interview, 22:10)

Right of the Boom

As the insurgency in Iraq roiled, American military leaders emphasized the need to detect and defeat IEDs "left of the boom" - that is, before they exploded. Beimfohr and his platoon succeeded in detecting IEDs "left of the boom" on multiple occasions - he estimated that they located and disarmed between 20 and 30 IEDs in the first six months of his deployment, in addition to tracking down and detaining individuals responsible for planting IEDs in their area.

Beimfohr being stabilized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. 2005. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Even the most proficient soldiers could not guarantee their own safety against IEDs, however - an aspect of the war in Iraq that Beimfohr reflected on with a sense of acceptance, remembering his feeling that "when it's your time to go, it's your time to go" (Audio interview, 21:56).

On July 5, 2005, Beimfohr believed that his time to go had arrived. During a vehicle-mounted patrol, his platoon leader in the vehicle in front of his spotted copper wires, commonly used to detonate IEDs. Beimfohr and another soldier cut the wire, disabling two "daisy-chained" IEDs that could potentially have killed as many as 15 coalition soldiers that day. As they were following the wire back to its point of origin, a third IED was detonated - one that had been set to target anyone following that wire. Specialist Christopher W. Dickison was killed by the blast, and Beimfohr suffered severe wounds to both legs, his arm, and abdomen.

The platoon's medic had to sprint nearly two miles to reach Beimfohr, but the first soldiers on the scene went to work immediately - stopping his bleeding and getting an IV started. The constant first aid training that Beimfohr had demanded of all his soldiers likely saved his life. While waiting to be evacuated, he made peace with the fact that he was likely going to die by saying a quick prayer:

"Lord, I'd like to live but if it's my time to go, I'm ready. Forgive me my sins, I'm ready to go." (Audio interview, 47:30)

Beimfohr in physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. September 27, 2005. Joseph Beimfohr Collection. Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Beimfohr spent three months in the hospital recovering from his wounds. He lost both of his legs, but was determined to walk again, and began walking on his prosthetics within six weeks. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions on July 5 - actions that likely saved the lives of several other coalition soldiers. Beimfohr had no patience with those who told him and other military amputees they wouldn't walk again, and likewise had no patience for those who treated him with pity.

"You get people who say ‘oh, I’m so sorry!’ and I’m like ‘why are you sorry? Fifteen guys are alive because I got hurt - that sounds like a good trade-off to me!'” (Audio interview, 1:07:07)

Joseph Beimfohr refused to allow his injuries to limit his zeal for life. He competed in adaptive sports, including handcycling, para marathons, and para triathlons. He married and raised children, and also recalled in his oral history interview how his experiences had given him a sense of purpose in helping other wounded veterans.

"I think that the injury has helped define me—as far as my character—as being a driven, focused person. I still take time out to visit soldiers at Walter Reed, I take them out, I have them over to my house.... I just want to show them that ‘yeah it sucks when you get injured, but it doesn’t mean your life has to stop. It will change, it will never be the same, but it can continue. It will be different, but you can still live.’” (Audio interview, 58:49)

Joseph Beimfohr sadly passed away in 2018 due to liver cancer - he will be remembered for the fighting spirit with which he lived, and his tireless work in supporting other soldiers and veterans.

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