World War II vet, wife reflect on 100 years of memories


ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Every day, more than 350 World War II veterans die, according to the National World War II Museum. But at least one surviving World War II veteran remains in West Michigan, with his wife by his side.

Gerald Gebraad says he asked Louise to marry him in kindergarten. They waited a few years, but they’ve been married for 78 years — at least they think it’s 78.

Louise says after a while it doesn’t matter.

“No. You’re stuck with them, you know,” she said.

Lifelong West Michigan residents, the Gebraads met in kindergarten at Palmer Elementary school and raised their family on Grand Rapids’ northeast side. Now, they live in Zeeland.

They’re part of what’s been called America’s Greatest Generation.

“(When you) sit in a group of about 10 people around you. You got one good story about the war from everybody. Things happened,” said Louise.

Like many men in the day, Gerald volunteered for the military.

“I thought, ‘Extra hazardous duty?’ And before I knew it, this hand went up,” he recollected.

After training, shipping out to Washington and saying goodbye to his young wife, Gerald got an answer.

“Finally we found out we were volunteering for duty in China. China was occupied by Japan,” he explained.

Gerald worked as a bookkeeper during World War II.

Back at home, Louise was pregnant and gave birth to their first child, Kay.

Twenty-one dollars a month. That’s what she had to live on,” said Gerald.

“I’m still here; (it) must have been enough,” Louise added.

Gerald didn’t see combat. And after two years, he was able to come home.

“(I) took a taxi to the station, he walked off and I caught his arm and we came home in a taxi,” said Louise.

Gerald met their daughter for the first time that night. Two sons, and several decades of life followed. 

“I just feel like the Lord came along and said ‘Gerald, I’m going to tuck you away for a little while,’” said Louise.

Gerald will turn 100 next month. Louise is 98 years old.

While they share many memories, they have different takes on the meaning of Veterans Day.

“I’m a veteran. That’s all,” said Gerald.

“It’s an important day when you think of the loyalty and all of those men going out to the war. It was tremendous,” said Louise.

Louise recommends everyone read Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation.” She says that is an accurate portrayal of the people from their generation.

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