WWII Gold Star soldier: Douglas Gertsen

Hannah Haack
Intern, Story City Historical Society
Douglas Gertsen was the first soldier from Story City to lose his life during World War II.

There were 403 people from Story City who served in the military during World War II. Of those 403, 15 men lost their lives while in service. The Story City Historical Society is paying tribute to these 15 soldiers in the Herald near the anniversary of their death. The Gold Star soldier we are honoring today is Douglas Gertsen, who died in Virginia on May 3, 1943.

Douglas was born in Rosendale on Feb. 20, 1920. He grew up in Story City and graduated from Story City High School in 1939. He was one of the first men to leave the community to join the armed forces during the war.

Douglas left for service in 1940 and was stationed in Chanute Field, Illinois, where he took a course in airplane mechanics. He was then transferred to Langley Field, Virginia, and also spent 30 days in San Diego, California, for advanced training. On May 3, 1943, Douglas was the chief engineer on board a bomber when the plane went out of control and the men were ordered to bail out near Nassawadox, Virginia. His parachute failed to open and he plunged to his death. He was the first soldier from Story City to lose his life during WWII.

A funeral was held on May 8, 1943, at Grace Church. A large crowd was in attendance, the main floor and the gallery were filled and an overflow crowd heard the service over a loud speaker extension in the basement. Pall bearers were all local service men home on furlough. Sergeant Gertsen is buried in Story City Cemetery, Story City.

Excerpt from the obituary read at the funeral: “Douglas’ life, tho brought to an untimely end, was measured to the full in service and self-sacrifice to all mankind. Let no one say he died in vain, for life poured out upon the altar of a country’s devotion is an offering on behalf of all liberty loving men.”

​Douglas was the son of Jens and Dagmar Gertsen, who lived in Story City. Besides his parents, Douglas left behind a brother, Elton, who was serving in the Coast Guard, and sisters Alice and Opal, as well as numerous family and friends who mourned his death.

As we remember Douglas Gertsen and all of our Gold Star soldiers throughout this year, let us not forget that they gave their all for liberty and peace. To learn more about all of the Story City WWII veterans, visit the historical society's website at storycityhistory.org.