WWII vet says he’s glad he served his country
summit daily news
SILVERTHORNE – Memorial Day has a special meaning to longtime Summit County local Egon Gerson. As a surviving member of the Navy, who served at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II, the 89-year-old veteran understands the importance of honoring soldiers who died serving a greater good.
“It was a tough battle for everyone involved there,” he said, remembering his time at Iwo Jima, when the United States fought and took the South Pacific island in early 1945.
Gerson, who joined the Navy voluntarily in April 1944, said he wasn’t a hero because he was just doing his job. However, his heroism was apparent even in the reasons he gave about his decision to volunteer.
“I wanted to give back. I volunteered to show appreciation,” he said. “It wasn’t that we joined the military before the war. We knew why we were going in. We had to get into this to win against worldwide fascism and the danger of Japan.”
Gerson, a German-born immigrant, moved to Chicago with his parents as a 17 year old in 1938 and became an American citizen in March 1944. Already trained as a tool-and-die maker, Gerson’s skills were important enough to keep him on the homefront, and his draft call was deferred.
“I came to the U.S. for political reasons,” he said. “Coming from Nazi Germany, I was thankful that America gave me a place to live.”
According to Gerson, the Navy trained him as a motor machinist, and he knew how to take care of diesel engines.
“We transported soldiers up to the shore (at Iwo Jima),” he said. “At first we transported Marine personnel, then jeeps, trucks and supplies after the fighting had somewhat subsided.”
Gerson also said he’d shut out many memories from the war.
“I was on Iwo Jima when they raised the flag,” he said. “There were 18 boats in our division. Seven came back out. That was lucky.”
And despite the hardships Gerson experienced, he said he’s glad he did it.
“It was just the right thing to do,” he said.
When asked to describe his personal impression on why Memorial Day is important, Gerson replied: “We want to remember those who gave their lives for the country, of all wars. And that’s why we hand out red poppies for those who fell in WWI at the field of Flanders in France. It was a field of poppies, an offensive by American forces. We had a lot of fatalities.”
When Gerson arrived home from war in 1946, life went on as usual. He returned to his family and job in Chicago. Meeting his wife, however, was both by chance and fortuitous.
“I was supposed to have a date with a student nurse,” he said, “and she sent someone down with an excuse, something about her hair.”
The woman she sent down was his future wife, Elaine, and Gerson asked her to go for a walk. Later they married, and had three daughters – Liz, and twins Carol and Nancy. Elaine died in 1996.
Gerson and his wife moved to Summit County full-time in March 1977, after visiting the area for summer and winter vacations for many years. They first had a condo in Dillon Valley before moving to Silverthorne.
“I like it here,” he said. “It’s my kind of place.”
Throughout his life, Gerson has also been tremendously active with the National Ski Patrol and the American Red Cross. Though he didn’t work as patroller after his move to Colorado, he spent time as an emergency medical technician at the Snake River Health Center in Keystone.
As thanks for decades of volunteer service, The American Red Cross Egon Gerson Service Center was named for him and is located in Dillon. He’s also received numerous awards for his service with the Red Cross, and carried the 1996 Olympic torch for a half-mile in Denver while in was en route to Atlanta.
Gerson currently works in guest services for the City Market in Dillon and Keystone Resort.
Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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