CT3 Jerry Leroy Converse, USN
June 11, 1943 – June 8, 1967
Jerry was killed three days before his 24th birthday. Today, he and his family would have celebrated his 78 birthday.
Jerry Leroy Converse was born on June 11, 1943, in Puyallup, Washington, to Phyllis and Melvin Converse, a pipefitter in the shipyard. In 1954, the family moved to Cherokee — Converse was 11, brother Allan was 7 and twin sisters Mary and Martha were 1 year old. Growing up, the brothers were inseparable.
The family eventually moved to Boone, where they purchased businesses that needed fixing up. The children pitched in at a young age. The many projects gave Converse, who had an affinity for engineering and mechanical things, access to tools and equipment.
Converse did well in school. In high school, he discovered a love of music. He played the accordion and sang in choir and ensemble chorus. But when he finally got to study his true passion of engineering and mechanics in physics and electronics classes, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.
After graduating from Boone High School in the spring of 1961, Converse attended Iowa State. By this time, he had grown quite tall, nearly 6 feet 7 inches. And, although he never played sports, the ISU basketball team desperately wanted him to join. The coach even made personal visits to the Converse household to try to recruit him – but he resisted.
Instead, Converse concentrated on his electrical engineering major. During that time, he and his brother ventured to the World Fairs in New York and Seattle. Seeing all the inventions and gadgets of the future inspired him in class and he thrived in his major.
Tall, color blind and intelligent
Not surprisingly, he wanted to fly. Converse approached the Air Force about signing up. In a series of tests, he discovered that he was color blind. And he was an inch too tall to fit in the cockpit of a plane. Denied by the Air Force, he signed up with a Navy recruiter to fly.
However, Navy testing revealed Converse’s great aptitude for intelligence. After training, Converse started with a high security clearance, running a machine he told his brother “was like a typewriter with 5,000 keys.” Stationed in Maryland, he thrived in his assignment, listening to coded messages that he interpreted and passed on to intelligence in Washington, D.C.
While in Maryland, Converse became active in a church youth group and met his girlfriend. He told his brother Allan that he wanted to marry her, but his new assignment on the USS Liberty came with risk: The Liberty’s sister ship, the USS Pueblo, recently had been captured and held hostage. The Liberty was a possible target, as well. He would wait to propose.
Jerry Converse is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Cherokee, Iowa, Plot Blk 2N, Lot 15, grave 4.