WWII veteran has no regrets for his sacrifice for freedom 70 years ago

Gerry DuBois sits in his home on Marshall Street Wednesday with medals he received for his service in the Army.
(The Daily Review Photo by Zachary Fitzgerald)

A photo of Gerry DuBois taken in 1944 when he enlisted in the Army is displayed at DuBois’ home in Morgan City.
(The Daily Review Photo by Zachary Fitzgerald)

DuBois lost his eyes 70 years ago in World War II combat

Nearly 70 years ago Gerry DuBois lay on the ground with mortar shell explosions and machine gun fire going on all around him, and he knew at that moment that he would never see again.
When DuBois, 89, of Morgan City, was lying on the ground after having been hit with mortar shrapnel, he prayed, “Lord, let me live, and I’ll never gripe about being blind.” DuBois knew he was going to be blind for life and said he has kept his promise to never complain about it. He was 19 years old when he lost his eyesight.
DuBois has lived in the city since the age of 10 and currently resides at his home on Marshall Street. DuBois served in the Army with the Amphibian Combat Engineers during World War II upon enlisting in 1944.
After his basic training, DuBois was sent to north Africa, which was not a combat zone during his time there. The Army then stationed him in Naples, Italy, which also did not have any combat action at the time, he said.
In late 1944, he was shipped to Marseilles, France, and he traveled throughout southern France. He was stationed near the Rhine River, which separates France from Germany, where he built pontoon bridges because the Germans were continually destroying bridges, he remembers.
While stationed in France, one day German troops began lobbing mortar shells at U.S. troops. “I was on all fours getting up off the ground, and a mortar shell hit right in front of me,” DuBois said. The impact from the shell caused him to lose both of his eyes.
“Every day with the shelling and machine gun fire and everything, somebody was getting hurt,” DuBois said.
DuBois had been staying in an area about five miles from the Rhine River that was supposed to be away from danger, he said. However, the Germans found out where the U.S. troops were stationed and started firing 88 mm artillery shells and mortar shells at the Americans. “After I was wounded, they opened up with machine guns,” DuBois said.
The U.S. soldier in front of DuBois had been standing up and got hit in the hip, DuBois said. Most of the shells went over DuBois’ head, but a piece of shrapnel hit him in the neck and followed his spine all the way down, he said.
“But it never did touch my spine. I was lucky there,” DuBois said. “If it would’ve hit my spine, I probably would’ve been crippled.”
U.S. troops had been waiting under shelter, and they thought the Germans were going to blow up the bridge over the Rhine River, DuBois said.
“The Germans were retreating in those days. And they thought when the Germans got across that bridge, they were going to blow it up,” DuBois said. “But our troops were right behind them, and they didn’t have a chance.”
Building a pontoon bridge across the Rhine River would have been a big challenge, DuBois said.
DuBois was brought to a hospital in Pennsylvania after being treated in France.
When DuBois got out of the hospital, the Army sent him to a blind training center where he learned how to get around with a walking cane. DuBois moved back to Morgan City to live with his parents on Front Street.
DuBois recalls exactly what he did upon returning to Morgan City. “The first thing I did, the next day I was home, I grabbed my walking cane, and I took off. My dad said, ‘Where are you going?,’ and I said, ‘I’m going to town,’” DuBois said with a laugh. “I believe my dad followed me everywhere I went, and I didn’t know it.”
DuBois met his girlfriend, Peggy Verret, 10 years ago about three years after both of their spouses died. “He cooks. He cleans house. He can do everything but drive a car,” Verret said.
When the American Legion post was active in Morgan City, DuBois would walk there from his house on Marshall Street almost every day, he said. “I used to enjoy the Legion, and now they folded up,” DuBois said.
DuBois has been involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4222 in Morgan City as well.
He worked as a short order cook in Morgan City when he was 16 years old and still enjoys cooking those kinds of foods, he said.
DuBois used to be an active gardener until he got severely sick about a year ago and had a pacemaker installed, Verret said. “The heart doctor stopped him at that time from doing the garden,” she said.
DuBois said, “When you’re blind you’ve got to get on your hands and knees with a hand shovel. If you stand up with a hoe you’re going to cut all your plants.”
He has plastic eyes that cost $6,000, which he gets from New Orleans. DuBois has had four or five pairs of plastic eyes since he has been blind, and the pair he has now is the best, he said. DuBois has one son, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren, all who live in the area.

By ZACHARY FITZGERALD zfitzgerald@daily-review.com

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