The Dogs of War

Wilson Gerler was born on July 13, 1909.  His story is another one, like yesterday’s post, that includes dogs.

For those of you that follow this blog and read it regularly, you may remember that in the history of East Perry County, there are two basic groups of Gerlers…..the Lake Gerlers and the Ridge Gerlers.  I have probably written more stories about the Ridge Gerlers, but today’s story is about a Lake Gerler.  The basic distinction between the two groups is that the Lake Gerlers were mostly located south of Altenburg near the border of Cape County where there was once a lake called Gerler Lake.  The Ridge Gerlers were located north of Altenburg on The Ridge.  One other generality that can be made is that the Lake Gerlers were mostly members of Trinity Lutheran Church, and the Ridge Gerlers were mostly members of Immanuel Lutheran Church.  Both of these churches are located in Altenburg.

Wilson was the son of Christian and Susanne (Vogel) Gerler.  He was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church.  However, when Christian and Susanne had their first two children, they were baptized at Concordia Lutheran in Frohna.  That is almost certainly because Susanne was raised at Concordia.  From 1897-1901, Christian moved his family to Jacob, Illinois, but then when he returned to Perry County, the family became members of Trinity.  Two of their children were born in Illinois.

The 1930 census places Wilson in St. Louis working as a title examiner at a city hall.  He was still single and would remain so all his life.  One would probably not expect to find a boy from Perry County in the Coast Guard, but that is exactly what happened with Wilson.  During World War II, we find Wilson performing a rather unique role.  He became a War Dog Trainer.  This certificate shows that he was in California receiving certification as a War Dog Trainer who was trained to use a dog to perform sentry duty.  Here is a certificate showing this.

Wilson Gerler War Dog Training certificate

I found this description of how war dogs were used by the Coast Guard during World War II.

“The first of the Army’s canine members were trained for sentry duty. This was deemed the most pressing need since German and Japanese submarine activity off both coasts raised concerns about the potential landing of saboteurs who might be able to gain access to military facilities and important war industries. In response to this threat, dogs were trained to alert their handlers to any strangers in their vicinity, and on command, to attack those intruders. One of the most vital missions performed by these early sentry dogs was the patrol of America’s coastlines. For this task, the QMC-trained dogs were assigned to Coast Guard handlers who used the dogs’ keen senses to patrol the beaches and other areas along the coast.”


Apparently this was Wilson’s task during the war.  As the war progressed, the use of dogs in war was expanded to other roles in addition to sentry duty.  An interesting article that further discusses the role of canines in the United States military during World War II can be found at this site:

We have Wilson’s Coast Guard uniform on display at the Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum.

Werner Gerler military uniform
Wilson Gerler Coast Guard uniform

Wilson enlisted on July 8, 1942 and served until January 7, 1946.  Wilson died in 1993 at the age of 83.  He is buried in the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in Altenburg.  Here is a photo of his gravestone which recognizes his military service.

Wilson Gerler gravestone Trinity Altenburg

Wilson’s story is another one that could be enhanced if I had the time to interview some of the old-timers around East Perry County who remembered him.  I am sure they could add much information to this story which is already a fascinating one concerning his very special war experiences with dogs.



2 thoughts on “The Dogs of War

  1. I remember him a thoughtful man, like my dad, measured his words carefully. He lived in chicken house with living quarters sandwiched beween the two wings, east and west. My dad may have built it. On the road just before Walter Gerler’s. This is how he made a living.


  2. Wilson and my dad hunted and trapped together quite often. On one occasion they killed a female bobcat with two kittens. These kittens were nursed to maturity by a little female Pekinese that we had. When the bobcats became too rambunctious to keep in the house, Wilson built a pen for them and showed them at various functions in and around Altenburg. Also, if memory serves me correct, the Grit newspaper printed an article on this story.


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