Meade County Veteran of the Month: Mr. Gerber

VOM March 2016

Mr. Thomas Gerber: From Sturgis

Service years: 1945-1946

Mr. Gerber was in his junior year of college with a major in Math and a minor in Industrial Arts when he was drafted into the Army.  After being inducted in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, he completed basic training at Fort Lewis.  He was in the middle of rifle training when a sergeant approached his group to find out who had experience in typing and Mr Gerber raised his hand so they sent him to San Francisco at Presidio base. Presidio was an Army post that had originally trained soldiers during the Spanish-American War, and during WWII it was a deployment center and training site. During this time Mr Gerber was to type up handwritten notes from psychologists who were performing interrogations and prisoner interviews.  Mr. Gerber admits the contents of these notes have scarred him to this day, thinking about the things that were done to prisoners.

Mr. Gerber can recall a story that sticks with him to this day about a person’s will to live. There were two US Soldiers on the USS Solomon that had their ship sunk by the Japanese.  They were taken onboard a prisoner ship, which ended up being sunk itself on its way to Japan, and they were picked up again by another prisoner ship, where they were subjected to terrible experiences. They were able to survive through all of that, but towards the end one solider told the other that he was tired of fighting and he gave up and died a short time later. The moral of the story and something Mr Gerber follows in his age of 90, is the will to live. That story had a tremendous effect on Mr Gerber and he says is the power from within one’s self that you can overcome anything.

After typing notes for a couple months, Mr. Gerber was sent back to basic to finish his training while being on kitchen duty.  His training was once again interrupted by his next duty assignment, which was to work as a guard at a POW camp in Sacramento, CA. During his stay at the camp, he was also asked to teach others to double shift in trucks since not many people knew how to drive. He assisted in driving trucks for supply runs. He also worked in the reduction department where he would teach prisoners about democracy and America. When that short assignment was complete, he was back to Fort Lewis and kitchen duty. All in all, he ended up going back and forth 5 different times. He had worked in Montana at a war camp and another camp working with German prisoners. Lastly he was sent to Texas and Fort Lewis where they needed a separation clerk.

After his honorable discharge in 1946, Mr. Gerber was able to go home and finish his college education and earned a B.S. in Education with an emphasis in math. Interestingly, his first teaching job actually came about because a teacher had become pregnant, which disqualified her from teaching due to the rules for women teachers during that time. Mr. Gerber would end up teaching all over the state. During his travels around South Dakota, he ended up meeting his wife. He decided to attend grad school for Math at University of Iowa

Mr Gerber had always had a love for teaching, but as technology advanced, he found an even bigger love for computers, which drove him to work for IBM. Over many years Mr Gerber had worked in Milwaukee, New York, Chicago, all over South Dakota and Minnesota, Los Angeles and Arkansas. Mr. Gerber ended up having 7 children, 9 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.  Since retirement, he enjoys computers still, writing fiction, gardening, and- oddly enough- shoveling snow.