Joe D. Bessinger, a World War II and Korean War veteran who along with his four brothers comprised the Bessinger barbecue empire, died Sunday from complications from a fall. He was 82.
Bessinger was one of 11 children born to Genoria Agnes Thomas and Joseph James Bessinger, whose mustard-based barbecue recipe would launch the brothers' competing restaurants, including Joe Bessinger's Barbecue, which Joe D. Bessinger started three years ago as a gift to his children.
Bessinger fought on the beaches of Normandy in World War II and re-enlisted in the U.S. Navy to fight in the Korean War, said his only daughter, Lynda Clifton.
"My dad always thought that, apart from his family, his proudest accomplishment was being in the service," Clifton said Sunday, while looking through scrapbooks of his time in the service. "He loved his country, he loved his Lord, and he will certainly be missed."
Bessinger returned to Charleston after the war and opened the first Piggie Park restaurant with his brother, Maurice. He would close that restaurant and open another in Mount Pleasant, which he closed 20 years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer, Clifton said.
He stayed out of the barbecue business for nearly two decades until three years ago this week, when he decided, without telling his three children, that he was going to open another restaurant.
"He decided, at the age of 79, that he wanted to go back into business," Clifton said. "He surprised all of us after the fact. He wanted a gift to leave to the children."
He passed his secret recipe to sons Joe Jr. and Steve, who along with Clifton have been running the restaurant. It was closed Sunday due to his death and will remain closed until Thursday, Clifton said.
Bessinger is survived by his wife, Helen Salisbury Bessinger.
Visitation has been set for Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Stuhr's Funeral Home at 1494 Mathis Ferry Road in Mount Pleasant. The funeral will take place there at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Burial will take place at Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens, 1308 Mathis Ferry Road.