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Oklahoma Journeys

Lynn Gerber and 9/11

2010-09-11

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9/11 or September 11th has taken on a meaning similar to December 7, but for an Alfalfa County man 9/11 has a different meaning than most of us might think. Lynn Gerber's 9/11 story is our story this week on Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

When we entered World War Two, the date December 7th became emblazoned in our national memory, and the same is true of the date 9/11. Lynne Gerber grew up in Alfalfa County, and in January 1941, almost a year before Pearl Harbor, he became the first man from that county drafted. Gerber wound up in the 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma National Guard and was assigned to the 179th Infantry Regiment as a foot solider.

On the morning of September 10, 1943, the U.S. Army invaded the boot heel of Italy to open that campaign. The morning of the 10th, the 36th Infantry Division stormed ashore near Salerno. The 179th Regiment was held in reserve until the afternoon of the invasion when they were called upon. At about 3:00 that afternoon a gap opened up between American lines, and the 179th with Lynne Gerber hit the beach.

In an article in the Enid News and Eagle, Gerber described what happened. They had expected the landing to be pretty much a pushover, but when they got ashore, they could tell from the large number of dead bodies and wrecked equipment the 36th had taken a pounding. They began moving inland in the darkness - walking. They were encountering no opposition. Where were the Germans? They wondered if they were walking into a trap, and, yes, they were. German forces just stepped aside and trapped the entire regiment - on the front, sides and rear. Gerber's platoon was pinned down in a ditch alongside a fence row and gravel road when four German 88-millimeter shells hit the fence about 8 to 10 feet from Gerber.

Gerber said as the afternoon moved on, they had nearly made it to a riverbank when he spotted a German tank firing with five Germans moving along behind it. Gerber said he was on his belly, just drawing down on them, when a machine gun blasted him from the right side. The whole burst was ricochets. He said he was hit in the right leg, left leg and the side. Right then, he said, three Germans came out of the trees on the right. He said he didn't see them coming at first, but they were on him before he could move.

"I remembered screaming and hollering and rolling over and over, and the Germans sticking bayonets in my belly and throat. One grabbed my rifle by the barrel and broke it against a tree, and said in broken English, 'Vor you ze var ist offer.'"

"I tried to get up," Gerber said, "but I couldn't. So they were correct - as of that moment the war was over for me." At nightfall, the prisoners were taken to a front-line hospital. On September 11, 1943...9/11...Gerber's 20 months as a prisoner of war began.

Gerber was liberated when a Russian tank, commanded by a large Russian woman, crashed through the front gates of the P.O.W. camp. He came home to a hero's welcome. That's why 9/11 holds a totally different meaning for Lynne Gerber, as he explained to the Enid News and Eagle.

His story is one of many you can find in the newspaper collection in the research library at the Oklahoma History Center, on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.