Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Dairyman helped shape World War II mechanics

My husband, the late Walter Frank "Chub" Gerard, enlisted in the Coast Guard in October 1943, during World War II.

It had become increasingly difficult to get supplies for the dairy. Repairs for the pasteurizer, coolers, bottlers and other machinery required scarce metals - mostly stainless steel.

Our "new" Dodge delivery truck was only 5 years old, but its tires needed to be replaced, and rubber was scarce; Chub and my dad, who were partners in Meyers and Gerard Retail Dairy, went to our junk pile and chose tires that could be booted and used again. But it was an uphill battle.

Chub often joked about having helped to win World War I when he was 5 years old. He sang at patriotic events to help sell war bonds, and he sang in choirs until he was in his late 80s.

His enlistment was prompted more by the shortage of replacement equipment and supplies than by what he said to friends - "I helped win World War I, now I’ll help win World War II."

After the usual indoctrination, an officer in Boston was assigning green recruits to various training schools.

" ‘Dairyman,’ it says here. What are you interested in studying?" he asked.

"Anything mechanical," Chub said.

The officer shot back with, "Humph! What would a dairyman know about anything mechanical?"

Chub had taken more than three years in electrical engineering at the University of Missouri - and had infinite problems with an old Pontiac truck and a dilapidated Delco Light plant as well as milking machines, sileage cutters and the like.

He was assigned to Hemphill Diesel School in New York City. He graduated one of the top four in the class, and those four were sent to Flint, Mich., to learn about the diesel engines used in something he had never heard of before: the Gray Marine Diesel. He had also never heard of a landing craft tank.

The United States had never needed to invade another country, but it was necessary to get ready to transport and unload thousands of men and huge quantities of military equipment onto the beaches of western Europe.

Some ingenious designers came up with plans for a huge, flat-bottomed craft with wide "jaws" and a tremendous ramp on the bow.

The tall, wide, flat-bottomed thing could land, lower the ramp and discharge men and machines in a hurry. Then they quickly lifted the ramp to close the bow.

Powerful engines at the rear then backed the monstrous craft off the beach to make a quick get-away. It crossed the channel, re-loaded and returned with a similar cargo.

How could the General Motors Institute of Technology create effective teachers for the operation of this unknown craft, training them in record time?

They chose four Coast Guard trainees, kept them in Flint and gave them intense teacher training with the help of teaching aids such as slides, movies, diagrams - everything to help the fellows, including Chub, learn to teach. GMIT experts coached them, explained minute details to them and did everything possible to create teachers out of dairymen like Chub and those with other skills. They taught men and officers from the Army, Navy and Marines. A skilled gang from the institute worked overtime to make effective teachers of those four fellows.

First Class Motor Machinist Mate was their rank; they wore uniforms that the untrained mistook for that of an officer, but their pay was the same as that of top sergeants.

At the end of the training, Chub was given a worn-out "rotor blower" from the Gray Marine Diesel engine. He had it made into a pair of matching lamps for our home.

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