Jerry Converse - CT2
- Purple Heart
Jerry Leroy Converse was born on June 11, 1943 to Phyllis and Melvin Converse in Puyallup, Washington. Melvin was a pipefitter who worked in the shipyard there until the end of World War II in 1954, when the family moved to Cherokee, Iowa.
At the time of the move, Jerry was 11, his younger brother Allan was seven, and their twin sisters Mary and Martha were just one year old. Jerry and Allan were inseparable, most of the time to Jerry’s chagrin. Allan said that because Jerry always had to take him on his adventures, he got to tag along in all sorts of activities that he probably shouldn’t have. The boys didn’t have to be home till it was dark, so they spent the summers running around the small town of Cherokee and down to the river. In the winter, the boys spent hours in the family’s basement which was overrun with model trains.
Their father, Melvin, was by then the general manager of a construction company in town, and he was strict with his boys, so although they were mischievous, as young boys often are, they never caused any permanent damage.
Sometimes they’d sneak over to a neighbor’s barn and dare each other to jump from the hay loft. Jerry was always the adventurous one who took the first plunge. Allan recalls a time they got into trouble when he and Jerry smeared candle wax all over the screens and windows of the neighbor’s brand-new house, which they then spent days cleaning. Alan and Jerry lived for Saturdays when they were given their allowance for their weekly chores. They would take their money and run downtown, catch a movie and then head to Woolworth’s to go shopping. It was the highlight of their week.
Jerry took good care of his brother and all of those close to him. He was the type of person who valued one or two very close friends over hanging out with lots of people. Jerry was always quite tall, reaching almost six foot seven inches by adulthood, but as a tall kid he was gentle and shy. He was just as happy being alone as being with his friends – he was most at peace within himself doing the things he liked to do. Jerry was also fiercely loyal and kept a secret better than anyone else, which when paired with his affinity for all things mechanical, led him to his eventual intelligence career in the Navy.
The family eventually moved to Boone, where they purchased businesses that always needed fixing up. This meant the family always had projects to work on and the kids were recruited to work at a young age. They always had jobs to do, which wasn’t much fun, but they also had access to lots of tools, equipment, and materials, and to a young engineer like Jerry, that was great fun.
Allan recalls one time when Jerry couldn’t resist temptation anymore and tore the family’s lawnmower apart to build a go-kart. Of course they didn’t quite have all the tools or the materials they needed, but who really needs a clutch anyway? They just put the back end up on blocks. When it came time to test it out, Allan was the only one small enough to ride it, so Jerry and his friends plunked Allan down, revved up the engine and knocked the kart off the blocks and to the ground. Allan tore down the street at 20 miles an hour and got pretty far until the engine ran out of gas. They got into big trouble for that little shenanigan, but it didn’t dampen Jerry’s curiosity in mechanics. He was always interested in how things worked, wanting to tear them apart and dig deeper.
Jerry was a smart kid and always did well in school. In high school, Jerry also discovered a love of music. He’s seen here playing the accordion. He also had a beautiful, deep singing voice and participated in choir and an ensemble chorus. But when he finally got to study his true passion of engineering and mechanics with classes in physics and electronics, Jerry knew that’s what he wanted to do with his life.
After graduating from high school in the spring of 1961, Jerry attended Iowa State University. Now, you might recall that by this time, Jerry was nearly six foot, seven inches tall. Although he never played sports, the ISU basketball team desperately wanted Jerry to join, and the coach even made personal visits to the Converse household to try to recruit Jerry, but he resisted.
Instead, Jerry majored in Electrical Engineering and became surprisingly good at golf. He attended Iowa State from fall 1961 to winter 1964. During this time, Jerry and Allan ventured to the World Fairs in New York and Seattle. Jerry loved seeing all the inventions and crazy gadgets of the future. These trips inspired him in his classwork at Iowa State and he thrived in his major.
Not surprisingly, Jerry wanted to fly. He approached the Air Force about signing up and went through a series of tests where they discovered that he was color-blind. He was also too tall to fit in the cockpit of a plane – they only allowed pilots six foot six inches and under. Jerry was pretty upset about being denied by the Air Force, so when a Navy recruiter approached him saying that the Navy has planes too, Jerry signed up right away.
This particular recruiter thought he could get Jerry into a plane, but as Jerry was tested he showed a great aptitude for intelligence instead. He trained in Pensacola, Florida and immediately started out with a high security clearance running a machine, which he told his brother “was like a typewriter with 5,000 keys." He was stationed in Maryland and he thrived in his position because he kept secrets well, had a passion for electronics and had a terrific memory. He spent his days listening in on coded messages that he would then interpret and pass along to intelligence in Washington DC.
Jerry liked being in Maryland and got involved with a church youth group. Through that group he went on weekend camping and exploration trips and eventually met his girlfriend, Bambi. He mentioned to Allan that he wanted to marry her, but he had been assigned to the U.S.S. Liberty and he knew the risk of what that meant. The Liberty’s sister ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo, had just been captured and held hostage by North Korea, and it was well known that the Liberty was a possible target as well. He didn’t want to propose to Bambi until he knew he was out of danger.
His ship was sent to the coast of Africa and when it docked for the night, he didn’t go to bars or see girls like his fellow shipmates. Instead, he explored the cities and took in the architecture and history, and met the people who lived there. He truly enjoyed his travels.
During the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations, on Thursday, June 8, 1967, the USS Liberty was positioned 14 miles off shore from the Egyptian town of El Arish off the coast of Sinai. There she was attacked by Israeli fighter-bombers.
The initial attack killed several members of the crew and injured many more and left the ship riddled and burning. Fourteen minutes later, the Liberty was attacked by three Israeli torpedo boats that raked the ship with gunfire. The ships then launched torpedoes, one of which hit the communications compartment of the ship. This is where Jerry Converse was located, and he perished alongside all the other communications specialists onboard. In total, the attack resulted in 34 deaths and injured 174.
While the attack on the USS Liberty continues to be controversial, what isn’t disputed is his active service in the Navy and his love for his family, his friends and his country.
He was a person of character, an expert in his field and he is missed dearly by his family and those who knew him.