She Can Do It!

A Mother’s Legacy Shines Brightly

by Stephen Long
Photos by Rich Pitoniak

This feature appeared in 2016’s American Iron Salute, which is available here.

OK, so J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It!” poster of Rosie the Riveter might have had more to do with feminine participation in industrial war efforts, but the battlefield nurses stationed around the world in World War II were just as strongwilled as their sisters back home. And Rosie’s bubble-quote speaks to collective female consciousness worldwide; they could damn well do the jobs of men and match the effort and production all the same. Kent Grtizke’s mother, Lieutenant Doris Beyer, was a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army during WWII, serving as head nurse in Nepal from 1943 to 45 at an Army Air Corps hospital as part of the East Asian campaign. And this build is a tribute to her.
“Planes would return from flying across the Himalayas, all shot up by Japanese fighter planes that were trying to prevent supplies being dropped to Chinese troops entrenched in battle with the Japanese,” says Kent. “They would evacuate the wounded, and those ailing soldiers ended up in her surgery unit.” Kent’s mother sailed with a troop convoy to India when she was just 20 years old, and all along the way her convoy survived the repeated attacks of German U-Boats. Our hats are off to this remarkable woman.
When Kent’s mother passed away at 85, she bequeathed enough money for him to set aside some to start this ground-up build. “Since most of my bikes are black and green, that color scheme was to remain the rule for this bike. The military look, no frills, utilitarian. All in honor of Lt. Doris Beyer,” Kent said. Rich Pitoniak of Pitoniak’s Cycles in western Massachusetts handled the build, what he calls the War Bobber. Rich remained true to Kent’s wishes, building a military-style bike that Kent proclaims to be one of the best Panhead hardtails he’s seen (he might be biased!).
Rich went with an S&S P-series engine, in accordance with the original Harley Panhead, introduced in 1948, just a few years after the war ended. The engine, case covers, foot and hand controls, 2-into-1 exhaust, and hardtail frame were all blacked out, the exact counterpart to the deep military green that Kent wanted for the tank and fenders. If you look close enough, the subtle US Army stars appear before you, stenciled onto the gas tank and the rear fender. Those fat Avons, front and rear, complement the look nicely, too, and help Kent “not dwarf his bike” anymore. The springer front end buttons up the work as a nod to the past and a tribute to a post-WWII world, one which Kent’s mother helped shaped in unquantifiable ways.
Give it a kick and fire it up, Kent. His mothers’ honor will echo in all the paths he travels. And what better way to pay homage to a true, unsung American hero than with a military Harley rumbling through the streets? “I, as a builder, am honored to be featured in American Iron Salute with a bike I built that honors someone who was a mother and who served our country,” says Rich. Here’s to you, Lt. Doris Beyer.