Special Agent Helped Defeat Germany, Traveled World on Missions

Dresden, after the Allied attacks, is reduced to rubble
Dresden, after the Allied attacks, is reduced to rubble

More than 40 years have passed since Gerald Thomas Garrison retired from the U.S. Air Force, but the former special agent still holds many secrets.

Recalling his 30 years of service, the former chief master sergeant speaks of bombing Dresden, Germany, in World War II as a togalier, his travels around the world and surviving a plane crash that killed most of his crew.

He knows the bombs he dropped from 21,000 feet in the air killed people, but he couldn't tell you how many.

Just weeks away from his 90th birthday, Garrison maintains the sense of commitment to this country that he had as a 17-year-old enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He says it prevents him from getting into detail about his part in the Bay of Pigs invasion or his counterintelligence work in Latin America and London.

Coming from a one-room school house in Tennessee, Garrison admits he didn't imagine his life would turn out as it did.

"It was wartime. Let's face it -- young men were not supposed to stay home; they were supposed to join the Army," he said. "Everybody else was there."

Garrison originally tried to become a pilot, but was foiled by his eyesight, and instead took on the role of togalier.

Before becoming a special agent, Garrison recalls flying long and dangerous missions, and also one incident in which he was reported dead.

His plane, carrying 10 people in all, was taxiing on a runway in Alaska when another plane "ground-looped," crashing into them. The front end of the plane was cut off, killing seven people. Drenched in gasoline and with the plane on fire, Garrison and two others escaped.

"It hit me when they had the memorial service and I walked in and everybody broke down," he said. "Heretofore, they had reported me dead, but I got a telegram out to my wife and the only thing they let me send was, 'Alive and well.'"

Calling himself one of the better interrogators -- "I sent a lot of people away" -- Garrison says it was not all work as he made time to throw parties at the embassy in London for his "spy friends."

His military career also led to 60 years of marriage with his wife, Harriett, a Tucson girl he met while stationed at Davis Monthan Air Force Base. The pair met Christmas night at a dinner, were engaged on New Year's, and married by Feb. 6, 1948. They had three children -- Tom, Nancy and Barbara -- all of who were oblivious to their father's top-secret duties. It was only within the last few years that Garrison's children began hearing about his exploits, Nancy said.

"He had many medals and commendations, but we didn't know for so many years what he did," she said. "He did it for his country and he says he would do it all over again, but there are things I certainly wouldn't do."

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