Hometown Hero: Gerald Mason

By Terry Kovarik | terry.kovarik@wearegreenbay.com

Published 06/10 2014 06:52PM

Updated 06/10 2014 07:09PM

TWO RIVERS (WFRV) Gerald "Jerry" Nelson found himself in good company when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and assigned to the Seventh Armored Division.

"They trained to be a crewman in a tank. They learned about the weapons. They learned all about the army," he said.

After training ended at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Nelson went with the Seventh to Europe. In December 1944, the unit was ordered south to Belgium and the Ardennes region for what would become the Battle of the Bulge. Within two days, Nelson's tank came under fire and Commander Truman Luther Van Tine was killed. But there was no time to grieve as another tank crew sent out a radio distress call.

"He was half-screaming, half-crying. He says we can't keep up here anymore. (Gets emotional). Somebody's got to come here and help us," Nelson recalled slightly sobbing.

Nelson's crew responded and he prayed they'd arrive in time. They came within two blocks of three Panzer tanks attacking the American crew. Nelson's unit quickly took out two Panzers.

"The third tank was starting to move ahead to get behind some brush and concealment, just like we were trained to do, but we hit him before he got there," Nelson said.

That successful response was quickly noted, with humor, by the armed forces newspaper "Stars and Stripes."

"They're measuring the coon skin cap for their own Daniel Boone. He's Corporal Gerald Nelson from the Seventh Armored Division who knocked out three tanks with three shots in three minutes," Nelson quoted.

Nelson survived the Battle of the Bulge, returned home after the war and opened a barbershop. Returning vets were urged not to talk about the war. An impossible task with this picture of his unit's Sherman Tank hanging in the shop.

"When you came in and you were in the army, we talked about it because people do want to talk about it But they don't bring it up with their families," Nelson recalled.

The more that Jerry Nelson and his customers talked about the Battle of the Bulge photograph and other stories. The more they realized that those stories should not be kept among veterans alone."

"What we did in our youth was never too much payment for a lifetime of peace and prosperity. We're thankful for that all the time," Nelson said.

Local 5's Terry Kovarik has the story.

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