Born on October 11, 1914, Don Byers grew up in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a boy, he was an avid reader who would grab a book, an apple, and some pretzels then climb onto the roof of his boyhood home on Higbee Street for a quiet place to read. He was also a member of the Boy Scouts.
The Byers family eventually settled into a double block home on Wakeling Street along with Adela’s brother Harry (pictured with Adela and Don) who lived with their widowed mother.
During his teenage years, Don sang in the choral group at Frankford High School where he graduated from in 1931. He wanted to be a football player for Frankford High but was a bit too short and a bit too thin so he served as a manager for the team. Don was also part of the church choir as a member of Frankford Memorial United Methodist Church.
He traded letters and photographs with young ladies he met – when penmanship and writing letters were an art form. Don and his friend, Charles Dixon, would always keep an eye out for cute girls at dances and on the boardwalk while vacationing in Wildwood, New Jersey. They would keep in touch with a few ladies, but never have a serious relationship. Then in 1940, Don met Annie Walker and they became inseparable.
Byers read the disturbing newspaper headlines about Adolf Hitler from the comfort of his home not thinking that these events might ultimately affect his life. He lived in Pennsylvania, thousands of miles away from the turmoil brewing in Europe, so there was little reason for him to be concerned.
The twenty-six-year-old worked as a clerk at a corner grocery store a couple doors down from his family’s home. His father worked as a mason, but manual labor was not attractive to him. He aspired to do something more with his life. College was an option, but he really wanted to concentrate on his music. Don played the violin and sang performing at the weddings of friends and family.
In the the fall, Don received a notice from the Selective Service ordering him to report to the local recruitment office for a physical examination. Days after his twenty-seventh birthday, he went for the examination: he was in average physical shape, 5’7″, and 148 pounds, and his hearing and vision were standard. The Army chose to classify him as 1B, on reserve, most likely due to his age.
Months later, on December 7, Japanese pilots attacked the American naval port at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which forced the United States to enter World War II. Pearl Harbor was a call to action for many Americans and Don was no different. He went to the recruitment office to enlist in the Army, but his 1B classification disqualified him from volunteering.
The Army soon changed its mind about Don Byers. He received another notice from the Selective Service in February to report for an examination on March 9. Days after the exam, he got a letter from the Selective Service that informed him that his status had changed from 1B to 1A; he was being drafted into the military. Don was instructed to report for duty on May 15.
The time for Don to enter the war drew closer and he could no longer doubt that fact. He knew that he could survive the outdoors, thanks to his days as a Boy Scout, but the only gun he had ever fired was for games on the boardwalk. His biggest concern was how this might worry his mother, Adela, who was very protective of her only son.
Don also wondered how this might affect his relationship with Ann – would their love be able to withstand the separation? He had no idea where he was headed or how long he would be gone. Would she be patient enough to wait for his return? If he were disfigured in some way, would she still love him?
And, like many solders, he faced the possibility that he might not return.