THE MOTHER OF THE SIXTH FLEET

As I’ve watched the news reports from Haifa, I’ve wondered to myself, “What’s become of the Haifa USO?” Sailors and Marines who’ve done a Med float (or two) are probably familiar with that location, a little piece of home far away from home.

So I googled “Haifa USO” and got a few hits. Then I tried the name of the lady who runs it—Gilla (or Gila) Gerzon—and I got quite a few more. Here are some of them.

Israeli Offensive Backed By The People (scroll down to the end)

A One-Woman Whirlwind

The Mother Of The Sixth Fleet

And here’s mine: I am proud to say that I have met Gila Gerzon. It was back in ’94, on my second float with 24th MEU (SOC). We had just come back from the expedition to burn the Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor… Ha ha, it wasn’t that Old Corps, in fact we had just come from Somalia after the covering the withdrawal there, and we were due for some liberty before resuming our exercise schedule in the Med.

Right before we pulled in, the MEU S-3 and the CO pulled me in and told me they had a job for me. The lady who ran the USO in Haifa not only provided a nice place for the sailors and Marines to go relax, she had also, solely on her own initiative, constructed a memorial park to the 243 men who were killed in Beirut in 1983. It was high atop Mount Carmel, and whenever ships pulled in it was SOP to have a small ceremony up there. Someone had to plan it, someone had to go with her while she planned her end of it, and that someone was 1stLt P.

I was not pleased, because the task lopped three days off my liberty schedule, but what could I do? It was important for the CO, and therefore I made it important for me. Besides, he’s not the kind of guy you say “no” to.

A burden became a privilege. I met Gilla, and went with her all over Haifa while she saw to a million little details. And I learned a few things about Haifa and her memorial. It was on choice real estate, if I remember correctly, and she got the land donated. 241 olive trees lined a path that extended to an overlook on the edge of the mountain, and the axis of the path pointed toward Beirut. All of this she did on her own, only because she loved the Americans who came through Haifa and wanted to make sure that no one in her country forgot those who died in Beirut.

She later had a tree planted in my name in the Mt Carmel National Forest. I have the certificate to prove it. I’ll see if I can dig it up, and some photos too, and maybe post them later.

So when you see the reports from Haifa, know that a great friend of the United States is there under fire, and say a silent prayer for her, all her good works, and her countrymen.

Comments

  1. MSchienle says:

    "She later had a tree planted in my name in the Mt Carmel National Forest. I have the certificate to prove it. I’ll see if I can dig it up" …

    Probably not the best way to show your honor, by digging up the tree. :-)

    Kidding aside, that's great to read Gila's dedication to our sailors. From the 1997 article, "Over three million sailors have passed through her Haifa USO center on Mt. Carmel …".

    Thanks for the post and related info.

  2. John says:

    phenomenal story

  3. Cpl M says:

    I agree, great post. I would love to see the certificate. It must have been very humbling at the memorial site.

  4. Ben Bauman "79& says:

    That is a tremendoous tribute to those Marines who served and died in Lebanon (My neighbor served there). Your comment reminded me about my time in Modadishu too. Luckily I left on a Medivac flight and but wonder when we will have Memorial to those who died there. Maybe someone knows where their is one?

  5. Scott says:

    I remember Gilla from being in Haifa in '92. It was the one port visit in the Med where I felt like they were interested in more than our liberty dollars. Quite a lady.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Awesome story about an awesome lady! We met Gilla when I was OIC of an Assault Boat det with the 24 MEU in 1988. We were in Haifa for 2 weeks, at the end of a contingency-busy deployment, and she made sure that every one of my guys got on some kind of fun tour, to de-stress them. She's an angel from heaven.

  7. Mike says:

    Gilla is wonderful…Great story. I too had an opportunity to meet her in 1994 while I was on the USS Finback (SSN-670). She and her husband Joel invited my entire division to their home for dinner. She is a true saint.

  8. Mark says:

    Never met Gilla, but the Haifa USO was the best on my cruise with the USS El Paso in 91.

    God bless the USO.

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