The Last Tribute to Gerald F. Stern

Gerald Stern, Poet of Wistfulness, Anger and Humor, Dies at 97

The Washington Post

Published 4:00 am, Monday, March 25, 2010

Gerald F. Stern (far right) during his years in the Army. He served in the infantry, was in the Rangers and in Korea during the Vietnam War. He was a decorated soldier and a veteran of seven conflicts.

Gerald F. Stern knew what it was like to be a wounded warrior in combat as well as the veteran who was struggling to recover from a debilitating illness. In his battle to remain with humor, even at the grave of his son, he left us this last tribute to his life and in memory of his son.

Stern, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who was known to the young and the mature alike as the poet of humor, died at his home here early Monday after a long bout with cancer. He was 97.

Born Jan. 1, 1916, on a farm in Illinois, Stern was 6 when he began living as a father of five. At age 9, he lost his mother to pneumonia. He would raise his young family on his own.

After graduating from high school, he joined the United Public Workers of America, a union of government workers, in 1927. It was a turbulent period of the Great Depression and the union had many disputes with the government.

In September 1929, Stern was arrested on charges of refusing to participate in the strike, but the charge was later dropped.

When the union began to experience internal turmoil in the late 1930s, Stern was one of the dissenters. During the 1936-37 strike, Stern was jailed on several occasions, eventually settling in a prison in Joliet, Ill., while his wife was in labor camps overseas.

After his release, he returned to the United Public Workers and joined its board of directors as a labor arbitrator. But he soon quit the union because he had been unable to get along with the leadership. After six years, he joined the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and worked on its board of directors in Washington, D.C.

In 1943, Stern became a member of the Army Reserve, serving with the 1st Infantry Division in Europe with the rank of captain. He served as a member of the infantry battalion staff in Berlin and in Sicily.

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