A series profiling American Jewish service in the First World War
For some, a single stint in the military is enough. Others join and don’t leave for a lifetime. For Herman Gerofsky (who later changed his name to Charles Herman Gerard), it was in and out four times between 1907 and 1919. He initially joined the 12th Cavalry Regiment where he spent time with at Fort William McKinley in Riyal, Philippines. Honorable discharge came on December 6, 1910. He returned to the U.S. and the native New Yorker found himself on the West Coast. On February 11, 1911, he enlisted for the second time at the Presidio as a private with the 13th Infantry Regiment.
He was sent to Fort William H. Seward in Haines, Alaska. Fort Steward was a good place to be stationed. Sure it was cold, but there were regular dances and social activities, and fishing and hunting were a part of the daily routine. There he trained as a non-commissioned officer and played in the band as a cornetist. In Alaska of the early twentieth century, everyone was excited about gold. So after his term of service was up, Gerofsky headed to the mines where lucky miners were finding gold nuggets worth thousands. But he wasn’t able to make his fortune. Just as he arrived, the mines were shut down when World War One began in 1914.
Eight months after he’d left the Army, Gerofsky once again felt the call to serve. This time he chose the Marine Corps. He enlisted at Portland, Oregon. Sergeant Gerofsky was sent to the Dominican Republican when revolution broke out in 1915. He saw action at Guayacanes before becoming a part of the military government being established in San Juan in 1916. In an interview with a newspaper reporter in 1932, Gerard recalled “I was fully unprepared to rule a country…We didn’t know anything about court order, so we ran it as we saw fit.” Amongst his many duties was as general of the national guard. He considered it great training for running a New Jersey delicatessen later in life.
He returned to the U.S. again after being discharged in 1918. But by this time, the U.S. had entered the World War. It was only four days of civilian life before re-enlisting in the Marine Corps one more time at Paris Island, South Carolina. Gerofsky was immediately sent to Brest, France with the A.E.F. as a First Sergeant with 97th Co., 6th Marines. He participated in the march to the Rhine River and the defense of the Coblenz bridgehead before the end of the war came.
For another ten months, serving with the Army of Occupation. He “kept a watch on the Rhine” for nine months. “It’s peculiar about the German people. Although the were grief stricken by the loss in the war, their attitude toward the American soldiers was entirely hospitable. Soldiers were, of course, sent to live with the families along the line and the fear was a bit overrated at first. When they learned that the Americans were not ‘beasts’ they became more friendly.”
In August of 1919, Gerofsky was out of the Marine Corps, discharged at Quantico before returning to New York and civilian life for good.