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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Gerhard Kalmus

Gerhard Kalmus's name on a blue background with three red stars above

Gerhard Kalmus's Photos

black and white photo of navy man sitting and smoking a pipe

Gerhard Kalmus in the dormitory at hospital corps school (1960)

two soldiers on a wooded pathway

Gerhard Kalmus (L) at Camp Pendleton, CA (1961)

young man standing in front of sick bay

Sick Bay at Camp Koza in Okinawa, Japan (1961)

young soldier standing with one foot on a jeep

Promotion to Hospital Corpsman (HN), Camp Koza, Okinawa, Japan (1961)

black and white photo of young man in medical ward

Treatment room, Camp Koza, Okinawa, Japan (1961)

soldiers walking between a line of jeeps and a navy ship

Deployment to the Philippines from Okinawa, Japan (1961)

young man in military uniform

Inspection at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan (1962)

two veterans shaking hands

Gerhard Kalmus's Story

I grew up during the post-WWII era, after the bombings, in Berlin, Germany.  My playground and toys were ruins and bricks.  It was an adventure and I did not know any different, since that was my reality.  The only adults were predominantly women, so there were few male role models.  My father did not care for the Fuehrer, so one day the SS came and he was sent to the Russian Front, even though he was medically exempt from serving in the military.  I did not see him again until the end of the war when I was five years old.  Looking at him in the doorway, I was horrified that this “skeleton” was supposed to be my father.  Eventually he recuperated and pursued his profession as a chef, but his desire was to leave his homeland. We lived in Berlin, an island in Russian-occupied Germany, and our sector was under the control of the British Occupational Forces.

One day my father obtained an opportunity to immigrate to Brazil.  This happened shortly after the American airlift to support Berlin during the Russian blockade.  The three of us—father, mother and son—packed up and never looked back.  Brazil exposed me to a new language and culture, but my parents' desire was to ultimately enter the USA.  After several years, my father found a sponsor in the USA, and it was once again—pack and move.

We legally entered the USA on 1/1/1956.  When arriving in NYC, I had shorts on and a sleeveless shirt.  Coming from the summer in the Southern Hemisphere to the winter in the Northern Hemisphere was literally a shock—I was freezing.  A new adventure—being classified as mentally challenged in school because I could not speak English was an incentive to quickly learn, adjust, and integrate into my newly adopted country. 

After attending numerous schools in various states, I spent one year in San Francisco, CA, where I joined the ROTC program.  Subsequently the family moved to Carmel, CA, and my new high school did not have a ROTC program, so I had no opportunity to continue my training.  There was a US NAVY station in nearby Monterey, CA, though, giving me the opportunity to join the US NAVY Reserves after graduation.

My initial training was at the US NAVY Training Center in San Diego, CA, followed by schooling as a Hospital Corpsman at the US NAVY Hospital Corps School in San Diego, CA.  Graduating first in my class, I was given the choice of requesting my first duty station.  Youthful naivety and grandiose expectations, I volunteered for the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).  This meant additional training at the Field Medical Service School on the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, CA. 

I knew I was going to be sent to a conflict in Vietnam, so I quickly wanted to become a US citizen.  My rational was that if I should come home in a body bag, I wanted to be a US citizen and not a German citizen.  No such luck—bureaucratic wheels turn slowly.  So I was sent to an American conflict as a German citizen, thus my nickname with the marines was “Germany”.  I ultimately did become a US citizen before I was honorably discharged from the US NAVY in 1966.

Upon completion of the Fleet Marine Force School, I was initially stationed with an Engineering Company at Camp Koza on Okinawa, Japan.  Ultimately I joined the Fleet, continued jungle training in the Philippines in anticipation of going to Vietnam.  By now, I had advanced from the HM-3 rank (Hospital Corpsman – Petty Officer Third Class) to Senior Company Corpsman.  The troops still did not know when they were going and more importantly—why.  I was invited to join the briefings with the officers and wondered why I was instructed to prepare for survival if we should be taken as POWs.  My company boarded the USS Princeton, a converted aircraft carrier for marine helicopters, and off we steamed to the coast of Vietnam in support of landings by US ARMY troops.  Remember that at this early part of the conflict, we were just “advisors,” but we operated under strict wartime conditions.  Everything went smoothly without any enemy contact, so we steamed back to Okinawa.  Shortly after returning to the States, I was discharged from active duty but remained in the reserves.

When talking with people back home about what was going on this early in Vietnam, many of them had difficulty believing the facts.  Even though I was encouraged to reenlist because of my training and the need for FMF Hospital Corpsmen, I decided to apply for my GI Bill and attend college, thus obtaining an educational deferment from active duty.  Ultimately this support allowed me to work toward my Ph.D., and I became a professor of biology at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.

My military experience was extremely worthwhile.  I appreciated the training and support I received through the service to my country.  Since we no longer have a draft, I still believe that every young person should be obligated to serve (not necessarily in the military) their country for at least two years.  It would give them a sense of pride in their country and allow them to understand why the USA is a very desirable place to live.  I do not see too many people trying to leave this country, but there are surely a large number of people trying to get into it.

-- Submitted by Gerhard W. Kalmus, Ph.D.