An Army combat veteran of the Korean War and self-described “last man standing” fought back loneliness with a shelter dog named Tiger.
Gerald has distinct memories of Korea, where he served with the 82nd Anti Aircraft Artillery (82nd AAA) based out of the 38th parallel. A lot of life transpired between his time in the Army and where he is today – 81, divorced and largely alone – but life changed radically and for the better when he adopted a companion pet.
“He made up for company I have now compared to being all alone. I’ve got him and he’s got me,” he says. “He’s not human and sometimes I’m happy he’s not human. He brings a lot of joy into my life.”
The hills of Korea
While man and dog now live a peaceful existence, Gerald’s life wasn’t always so tranquil. During his tour of duty in Korea with the 82nd AAA, Gerald spent a lot of time sitting inside the turret of a half track with four 50-caliber machine guns, the vehicle so named for its two-wheeled front and tracks on the rear.
“They make a racket, it’s a wonder that I have any hearing left,” says the Army veteran. “They didn’t have hearing protection in those days.”
The elderly veteran is proud to have served in such an historic location as the 38th parallel, where he was part of the Second Division of the Eighth Army.
“Some people called it the Indian Head division because of the shoulder patch,” he says, adding that serving on the 38th parallel proved to be an historic opportunity.
“That was the dividing line between North and South Korea when the cease-fire was actually agreed on,” he explains.
In his role with the 82nd AAA, Gerald’s primary job was providing infantry support.
“You usually had a hill between you and the hill you were firing at,” he explains. “You had a forward observer who gave you coordinates to fire on. Every fifth round was a tracer so the forward observer could see your fire and direct your fire.”
Even now, Gerald marvels at the capacity of the half track.
“You had two or three half tracks a mile or two apart in different locations,” he says. “You rain in 2,000 rounds a minute on the enemy; that’s a lot of firepower.”
Night landing at Incheon
The Korean War long past, Gerald still remembers the most terrifying moments of his service: landing at Incheon, a shallow water port in Seoul.
“You had to go in on landing crafts because the troop ships had to stay way off shore,” he recalls. “The most memorable experience was going in, landing on shore in those barges they sent the troops in at night and not knowing what to expect.”
The night landing, the terrain and being new to combat created a perfect storm of fear in the then-young Army veteran.
“The enemy wasn’t right on shore, but you’re still going in at night with no lights and going in green, not knowing what to expect, and going near the front lines in trucks on some narrow, narrow roads,” Gerald says. “You make a little mistake on those roads and you’re going downhill. Because you’re green and inexperienced it scares the heck out of you.”
Unlike veterans of the Vietnam war, who Gerald remembers “got spit on,” he had a “wonderful” homecoming. He returned to his home state of Michigan, where he lives to this day.
Gerald didn’t marry until his early 40s, and even before his marriage ended after 27 years – “my wife decided she wanted out” – Gerald was trying to make it work because he didn’t believe in divorce. The couple had no children and Gerald’s ex-wife took the dog, leaving him alone and uncertain about his future. His house is up for sale and he’s unsure of where he’ll live next.
One thing the Korean War veteran does know is that Tiger is coming with him, no matter what.
The two year-old Terrier mix, while a sizable departure from the much larger Golden Retrievers Gerald had his whole life, will be easier to accommodate in almost any new living situation. Gerald explains one of the reasons the shelter dog was a perfect fit for his new life.
“Since I’m being forced to move and I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed to have a big dog,” he says. “If I’ll be in an apartment or trailer park I can be there with a small dog.”
“Last man standing” no longer stands alone
Of course, it wasn’t size alone that attracted Gerald to Tiger. The once homeless dog plays a big role in the elderly veteran’s life: combatting loneliness.
“I’m basically the last man standing because I had two brothers and two sisters and they all passed,” he says, adding that only one of his contemporaries is still alive. “So I was basically by myself with no friends, and I’m used to having a dog around.”
Gerald confesses to having had some reservations about adopting a relatively young dog. Although more than two years old and therefore eligible for adoption through Pets for Patriots, Tiger has potentially many more years to live. Thinking ahead, Gerald already has the dog’s next guardian lined up.
“I realize there’s a good chance Tiger will outlive me,” Gerald says matter-of-factly. “I’m going on 81 and although I feel good, I think I’m on borrowed time.”
Not if Tiger has anything to say about it. The feisty dog makes sure his human charge stays busy. Very busy.
“Tiger keeps me active,” says the Korean war veteran. “He loves his daily rides so much, he lets me know. He starts nudging me and barking at me, ’Let’s go someplace.’”
The dog’s zest for life does have its occasional drawbacks.
“I have to be careful when I’m getting in and out of the car,” Gerald says, “because he’ll take off running to the nearest person or the nearest car, because he loves cars.”
Gerald loves a good road trip as much as Tiger, having spent 35 years as a trucker covering five states and the occasional trip into Canada. Although he was offered free schooling through the GI bill, Gerald was restless – “couldn’t stand being inside and looking out” – and opted for a job that would get him out of an office and into the world beyond.
A man and his dog
Gerald first met Tiger at the Michigan Humane Society’s Rochester Hills campus, which offers a deeply discounted adoption fee to veterans through its partnership with Pets for Patriots, as well as an ongoing 10% discount at all three of its full-service veterinary centers. In addition, Pets for Patriots gave Gerald a generous gift card upon his adoption of Tiger to help with pet food and other essentials. The Army veteran is on a limited income and appreciates the help the charity and its partners provide.
“Money isn’t everything,” he says, “but it sure helps.”
Tiger knows nothing of these human preoccupations; all he knows is that Gerald is his person. He made that clear when the elderly veteran first met him at the shelter.
“I met him in his crate and he was so happy to see me,” says Gerald. “When the lady brought him out for a showing, he jumps up on my lap, licking me, and it was love at first sight. I decided right then and there that he was my dog.”
Although not much is known about Tiger’s prior life, one thing is certain: the little dog is living large. He and Gerald often go down to the Lake St. Clair shoreline, or to the dog park one-half mile down the road from their house.
“We just sit at the shoreline and people watch,” says Gerald. “He loves everybody and gets excited every time someone comes around. He’s so cute, and every time someone who likes dogs sees him they have to give him attention.”
Back home, Tiger is a lovable and loving companion to his elderly veteran.
“If I’m sitting and watching TV, he loves to sit in my lap and squeeze in between my lap and the chair,” Gerald says, adding that Tiger loves sleeping in bed with him as well.
Life is better with a four-legged friend
Prior to adopting Tiger, Gerald did not know about Pets for Patriots, but would now recommend the nationally operating charity to other veterans.
“I’d definitely tell them to adopt a pet,” says the Korean war veteran, “especially if they were lonely, if they had circumstances like mine, without a lot of friends or family.”
Since adopting Tiger, Gerald now has both. A faithful friend and doting family member.
“I have to laugh at some of the things he does, like chase after a rabbit or a squirrel he can’t catch,” Gerald says with a smile in his voice. “He’s brought a lot of comfort into my life and I don’t regret adopting him for a minute.”