During World War II, Gerard Driscoll tried to join the navy when he was sixteen. His effort to join was thwarted when the recruiter discovered that Gerard had changed the date on his birth certificate.
Undaunted in his efforts to be at sea during the war, Gerard spent time working on commercial vessels on the Great Lakes, and after gaining experience as a seaman he took and passed the coast guard test, applied with the War Shipping Administration, and then he was assigned to his first Merchant Marine vessel in California. From there, he was on his way to the war in the South Pacific. His journey began in Hawaii and took him to the invasions of Saipan, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Had the atomic bomb not been dropped and if an invasion of Japan had taken place, he would have been bound for Japan.
After serving as merchant mariner from 1944 to 1948, Gerard joined the Army as a cobat engineer, and he was stationed in Germany for four years. When his tour ended in 1952, he left the Army and rejoined the Merchant Marine Service. His second tour as a merchant mariner took him to Italy, Spain, the Middle East, the Suez and Panama Canals, Central and South America, China, and Japan. Certainly, Gerard’s time at sea serves as a history lesson of the Unites States Merchant Marine and as a reminder of the significant part that they played during WWII.
We frequently get the opportunity to record our veterans’ interviews at the venerable Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. Situated in the busy Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the great Hall is a central landmark that sits high above 5th Avenue, like a citadel.
Yet, despite its urban location for a hundred years, many residents still don’t know much about the museum. As if hidden in plain sight, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum is the nation’s only military museum dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service.
That mission complements our own commitment to preserve the stories of local veterans from all branches of service and eras—including the often forgotten Cold War. Of course, because time is running out we prioritize working with the WW II generation, as was the case during this recording session; seven of the eight veterans we interviewed served during WW II.
Over two days (November 21st and 22nd) we welcomed our participating veterans to the museum’s grand Gettysburg Room, where we set up our mobile recording studio. It’s a popular recording space, often seen in local documentaries; the History Channel likes to record here as well.
Again this year the recording project was joined by the 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a communications unit in the Army Reserve located in Coraopolis, Pa. The mission of the 354th is to publicize the Army and its history.
“In addition to our own interviews,” said director Todd DePastino of the Veterans Breakfast Club, “each year we arrange for the 354th MPAD to interview Army veterans. It’s a wonderful experience for our WW II vets to talk with today’s uniformed soldiers, and I think the Reservists feel the same way.”
We were also joined by Nick Wells of Mt. Lebanon, an active member of our volunteer creative team. Nick was instrumental in helping us greet veterans and prepare them for their interviews.
KEYWORDS: ATOMIC BOMB; CENTRAL AMERICA; CHANGED BIRTH CERTIFICATE; CHINA; COMBAT ENGINEERS; GERMANY; GREAT LAKES; HAWAII; INVASION OF JAPAN; ITALY; IWO JIMA; MIDDLE EAST; MT SURIBACHI; OAKLAND, CA; OKINAWA, JAPAN; PANAMA CANAL ZONE ; PHILIPPINES; SAIPAN; SOUTH AMERICA; SOUTH PACIFIC; SPAIN; SUEZ CANAL; US ARMY; US COAST GUARD; US MERCHANT MARINE; US NAVY; WAR SHIPPING ADMINISTRATION; WAR SHIPPING BOARD; WORLD WAR II