Friday, November 05, 1999

WWII vet has had 77 years of 'luck, luck, luck, luck'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Art Gerow survived 59 combat missions and recent open-heart surgery.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        For most of his life, Art Gerow has considered himself one of the luckiest guys around.

        The 77-year-old Price Hill man's luck stretches back to his days training to be a fighter pilot for the Army Air Corps during World War II.

        During one of his first in-flight training sessions, his instructor turned their open-cockpit plane upside down. Mr. Gerow had fastened his seatbelt only an instant before. Failure to do so would have resulted in an unscheduled parachute jump and possibly a transfer to an infantry unit.

        “Dumb luck,” he says.

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        Mr. Gerow went on to earn his wings. Then he returned to Cincinnati for a 10-day leave, and found more good fortune.

        There was a young woman he'd had his eye on for some time. He would often see her on the Price Hill Incline, which he rode every day. “Never knew her name. Never spoke to her,” Mr. Gerow says.

        Now, though, he was an Army officer. And a gentleman. So on the last day of his leave, he stopped her and introduced himself. They talked.

        “Can I write to you?” he asked Ann Ryan.

        She said he could.

        For months, Mr. Gerow and Miss Ryan exchanged letters. Meanwhile, he says, two of his sisters “really brainwashed her, relative to what a wonderful guy I was.” Also, “My mother would invite her to dinner on Sundays.”

        In the meantime, Mr. Gerow was flying 59 combat missions, and returning safely each time. “Luck, luck, luck, luck,” he says, downplaying the skill that was required. He also says he was lucky to shoot down two German fighters.

The proposal
        After corresponding with Miss Ryan for 16 months — and having spoken to her in person just once, briefly — Mr. Gerow wrote her a very special letter. In it, he asked her to marry him.

        Her response arrived a month later.

        She said yes.

        Soon after, he came home from the war. The couple wanted to get married right away, but the Roman Catholic church required they formally announce their intentions three times. Typically, this would occur on consecutive Sundays.

        Mr. Gerow pleaded his case to the priest.

        “I'll tell you what we'll do, Art,” the priest told him. “At 6 o'clock Mass we'll announce it. At 10 o'clock Mass we'll announce it. And at 12 o'clock Mass we'll announce it.”

        With that, Art and Ann were married the next week.

        “That was the greatest piece of luck in my life,” Mr. Gerow says.

A hero's reward
        But there's more. Upon returning from the war, he visited Western Hills High School to say hello. He was wearing his Army uniform.

        They asked what year he had graduated. He explained that he'd left school at age 16, to help support his family.

        “They gave me a diploma right on the spot,” he says. He watched as the principal signed it.

        Without the degree, he would not have landed a job at GE Aircraft Engines, where he would work for more than 30 years. By the time he retired as a manager in manufacturing, his work had earned him nationwide recognition. He had spoken to generals at the Pentagon, and had received letters of commendation from the assistant secretary of defense.

        His work life was satisfying; his home life even more so. He and Ann raised three children. They were married 52 years until she died in 1997 from complications related to Parkinson's disease.

        That was a difficult time for Mr. Gerow. The emotional anguish, he says, was almost unbearable.

        But then, at the urging of a friend at church, Mr. Gerow began taking Holy Communion to shut-ins. And the self-pity began melting away.

        “Another lucky thing,” he says.

        Six weeks ago, though, he thought his luck might finally have run out. He was in a doctor's office, awaiting a stress test, when he began having chest pains.

        The stress test was canceled. Instead, Mr. Gerow was scheduled for open-heart surgery. On Sept. 23, he underwent a triple bypass.

        He didn't feel a bit lucky after the operation. What he felt was “pain up to my eyeballs.”

Outlook improving
        Recovery has been slow, but he's starting to come around. He's getting his appetite and strength back. His outlook is improving, too. He's again looking forward to taking Holy Communion to others.

        “I guess coming through this (surgery) might be considered somewhat of a blessing,” he says. “Every day is a little bit better. Each day, I feel a little luckier, and a little more grateful.”


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