Memoirs of those who fought in World War I are endless. My husband, Walter Frank "Chub" Gerard, claimed to have helped win the first World War because, at age 5, he was dressed in a little sailor suit and put up on a homemade stage to sing war songs. That made people buy war bonds!
In 1943, people with medical training at any level were in demand. There was a serious shortage of people trained to help. Two of us at Christian College taught first aid to 300 young women students.
Yet each student needed to "do" something. The ones who could knit taught that skill to nonknitters, and soon, needles were clicking in classrooms, recreation rooms and dorms. They proudly said, "We’re knittin’ mittens for Britain."
I did a great first mitten and shamefully admit I made six more mittens before I had a truly matched pair!
In 1943, Chub said, "I helped win the first World War, so I’d better go help win the second one!"
He chose the U.S Coast Guard. He was trained in mechanics in New York City and then sent to Flint, Mich., for advanced training in the care and operation of the Gray Marine diesel engine. The Coast Guard and General Motors Institute of Technology kept him on as an instructor for as long as landing craft instructors were needed.
The Gray Marine diesel engine propelled those weird, shallow-water landing craft that transported thousands of Army, Navy and Marines and their equipment across short distances, enabling them to storm European beaches. We heard of the LST - landing ship tank - more than any other. There were also LCI for infantry, LSU for utility and others.
General Motors provided Chub and three other Coast Guardsmen with wonderful teaching aids and supervisors. Chub’s students were of all ranks from the Army, Navy and Marines. Others were noncommissioned officers like Chub, and some were high-ranking, proven service personnel. In Flint, they were all doing one thing: learning the skills required for invasion - but that word was never uttered in my presence!
The instructors and students lived in apartments in Flint - "subsistence and quarters," it was called. Gas was rationed, and I drove 14 hours from home to Flint in one day.
The maximum speed allowed - to save tires and gasoline - was 35 miles per hour, and I drove because I needed my car there for my summer job. Flint’s recreation director had employed me to teach swimming one day at each of five pools.
One day, as I ended my class and walked toward the dressing room, I heard a child scream, "Hey, this kid’s drowned!"
I ran, grabbed a little boy’s wrist - he was already blue - and screamed, "Help! Get a doctor!"
Straddling the child’s body, I put my hands on his back and pressed down, rhythmically saying: "Place, swing forward slowly, release and rest Ö Help! Doctor! Ö Place, swing forward slowly Ö Dry towels, lots of them! Ö Place, swing forward Ö Oh! Joe, help me move him off cold, concrete ... Place, swing forward Ö Somebody call an ambulance, parents! Ö Place, swing ... More dry towels, Joe!"
I continued the rhythm of artificial breathing. People crowded around. The pool was empty.
"Dear God, save this child!"
The lifeguard was there, watching!
"Place, swing ... "
The child stiffened.
"No, God! Let us try Ö "
The child stiffened, buckled and wildly floundered. Joe held the child’s head; I sat on his body, held his arms, watching. Suddenly, explosive vomit all over! Thank you, God, for guiding Joe and me on this day to this pool. This nonswimmer is still alive.