Early Life and Becoming an Airman

Life in the Field and War's End


Edward Gerrits was born in Racine, Wisconsin, but was raised in Miami, Florida. He enjoyed going to the Florida Everglades to shoot frogs at night. They were big frogs and tasted good. He was raised with four brothers and a sister. None of his siblings were old enough to serve. Gerrits' father was a general contractor and worked across the globe. His father did not want to be a developer and did work for various big businesses. The attack on Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] was significant for Gerrits. The following day, everyone was alarmed. President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States] gave his "Day of Infamy" speech [Annotator's Note: Day of Infamy Speech; President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a Joint Session of the United States Congress, 8 December 1941]. Hours after the attack, Gerrits realized the magnitude of what had happened, but did not know the extent of the damage. Two of his cousins died in B-17s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber]. He remembers one of the seniors in his school joined the Marines in February, before the school term ended. By the end of June, he had fought on Guadalcanal [Annotator's Note: Battle of Guadalcanal, 7 August 1942 through 9 February 1943] and was back with major injuries and was discharged. Several guys joined the service after their midterms. Often, they were back within a year with serious injuries. Gerrits grasped the importance of the war, but did not understand the implications. Everyone followed the war. There was gas rationing. He bought a car for 12 dollars and he and his friends would get gas for it. You had to have stamps to get gas. When Gerrits became 18 years old, he joined the Air Force [Annotator's Note: US Army Air Forces]. He wanted to fly. Gerrits was sworn in at Fort McPherson, Georgia [Annotator's Note: in Atlanta, Georgia], and did his basic training at Keesler Field, Mississippi [Annotator’s Note: now Keesler Air Force Base near Biloxi, Mississippi]. He traveled to several bases across the country. Gerrits knew basic training was something he had to do. Everyone in the public was enthusiastic and cooperative. He does not think that could not be duplicated. After Keesler Field, Gerrits traveled to Fort Meyers [Annotator's Note: likely Page Field Army Airfield near Fort Myers, Florida], where he learned about the B-17. He thought it was a tremendous plane. The B-24 [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] and B-25 [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber] were both important planes in the war. He did his gunnery training in Laredo, Texas [Annotator's Note: Laredo Army Air Field, later Laredo Air Force Base, in Laredo, Texas]. Gerrits learned how to teach others how to do their jobs. In retrospect, he knows he was contributing. After training there, Gerrits went to Pratt, Kansas [Annotator's Note: Pratt Army Airfield, now Pratt Regional Airport, in Pratt, Kansas]. He remained there for two years training. Some of the flights lasted 13 hours. He flew from Pratt to Galveston [Annoator's Note: Galveston, Texas]; to San Juan, Puerto Rico; to New Jersey, and back to Kansas. The longer the class was together, the longer the flights would be. Gerrits had to learn how to take apart a gun blindfolded in under five minutes. When men were sent to the 2nd Air Force and the crews were assembled, Gerrtis found that many of the men were not the best at their jobs. One time, a chicken coop was picked up and dragged down a runway by an airplane. While in flight, something went wrong with a plane and Gerrits had to make sure the crew jumped out of the plane safely. He ended up riding the plane down and safely landing. There was a mechanical issue with the plane.


Edward Gerrits was in Pratt, Kansas [Annotator's Note: Pratt Army Airfield, now Pratt Regional Airport, in Pratt, Kansas] when the war in Europe ended [Annotator's Note: Victory in Europe Day, 8 May 1945]. One time, he was told Bob Hope [Annotator's Note: Leslie Townes "Bob" Hope KBE; British-American entertainer who was famous for entertaining American troops serving overseas during World War 2, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War] would be on the base to entertain the troops. A rain storm hit the base causing Bob Hope to land late. Gerrits thinks he landed in a B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber]. It was a tremendous performance and Gerrits thinks he did a lot for the American serviceman. He puts Hope in the same league as Douglas MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area], Hap Arnold [Annotator's Note: General of the Army and General of the Air Force Henry Harley Arnold], and George Marshall [Annotator's Note: US Chief of Staff and General of the Army George C. Marshall]. He showed up in a storm that Gerrits would not have flown in, and performed for the troops. All of the bases in the central United States saw USO [Annotator's Note: United Service Organizations] shows often. The USO went to Gerrits' base every Wednesday with girls to dance with. Those events were important to the men. Gerrits contributes to the USO when he can. The base had a softball team. One man wanted to be in the big leagues and became an umpire later in life. Another man ended up playing for the Cincinnati Reds [Annotator's Note: American professional baseball team]. Gerrits' team played in the national semi-pro softball tournament. He does not remember winning. Every major aircraft manufacturer was in Wichita, Kansas including Boeing [Annotator's Note: The Boeing Company]. Gerrits did not know if the aircraft companies or the employment agencies had men walking towns to get women to work for them. If the girls wanted to work for them, they were sent to Wichita. Those girls came from the surrounding states. The recruitment was very successful. When the second atomic bomb [Annotator's Note: nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 6 and 9 August 1945] was dropped, they started ferrying B-29s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] to Texas. One time, Gerrits brought three planes down to the field. The planes were lined up like a parking lot where some of the equipment would be reacquired. Gerrits saw the same planes lines up 25 years afterwards. For a few weeks, he flew the planes down to the field. Gerrits has tremendous respect for General MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Southwest Pacific Area] and very little opinion of Harry Truman [Annotator's Note: Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States]. He has no problem with the uses of the atomic bombs. He was shown images of the Bataan Death March [Annotator's Note: forced march of American and Filipino prisoners of war into captivity after the fall of Bataan, Luzon, Philippines causing the deaths of thousands of Americans and Filipino troops] and he refuses to by Japanese cars. He remembers being in military briefings about what they did to the American prisoners. When the war ended, Gerrits returned to Miami [Annotator’s Note: Miami, Florida]. He did not have any issues returning to civilian life because he did not experience negative things in the war. He hopes he did some good during the war. He thinks The National WWII Museum [Annotator's Note: in New Orleans, Louisiana] is a magnificent place. He thinks people will appreciate what the Museum does in the future. He does not think people understand World War 2 was about. He thinks people recognize what veterans of World War 2 and Korea [Annotator's Note: Korean War, 1950 through 1953] did. He does not think some people understand what veterans gave up to allow them to be free.

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