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Packing a lot of punch aboard ship, WWII veteran fought both inside and outside the ring

Thomas R. Gielow, 90

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Fort Myers, Fla.

Branch: Navy

Rank: Electrician’s mate third class

War zone : Pacific

Years of service: 1943-46

Specialty: Electrician

By Christopher Jasper

News Staff Reporter

Thomas R. Gielow was something of a celebrity aboard the USS Manlove.

During duty tours, he was an electrician at the propulsion board on the Navy destroyer escort in the Pacific.

But it was his off-duty work that earned him a sort of local fame: He boxed.

Gielow learned the art of pugilism at an early age from his father, who taught him the proper footwork and boxing technique at a young age. There’s even a picture of Gielow at age 8, smiling at the camera while wearing a pair of boxing gloves.

During quieter hours, the Manlove’s crew rigged up a ring and held bouts between crew members from different ships.

The fights were a spectacle. Gielow wore a special robe – courtesy of the Manlove’s captain – to enter the makeshift ring. The lightweight-class boxer then went to work.

“I always tell people I was an entertainer,” Gielow says. “I contributed by boxing. It did a lot of good things for the rest of the shipmates. They got out of the war for a little while, and it was entertainment for them.”

Gielow was also very good; in 25 fights, he never lost and fought to two draws.

The recognition also came with some benefits.

“The cooks, they’d say, ‘Come on in, Tom, and give me a free piece of pie,’ ” Gielow says.

But Gielow wasn’t spared the horrors of war. The Manlove was an escort for the Fifth Fleet during the Okinawa invasion and endured a couple of close calls against kamikaze pilots.

“The hardest part I had was – I was kind of like a medical person,” he said. “We had one of our shipmates shot in the leg, and it was in my area. I had to go up, and I pushed his artery into the bone to stop the bleeding. We were under attack, so we had to wait until it was over before we got any help.”

Gielow said he wasn’t sure what happened to the man, but was confident that he survived his wounds.

The Manlove also sank a Japanese supply submarine off Truk atoll.

“Other than that, we were fortunate,” Gielow says. “We had good duties.”

Like many other World War II veterans, Gielow never collected any medals or honors, other than the pride of serving a grateful nation.

When he returned to the United States, he had lost his passion for boxing. He had the ability to be successful in the sport, he says, but he didn’t have the follow-through to knock an opponent out. So he set his gloves aside for good.

He began working at DuPont, but quickly realized he wasn’t prepared to go far in the industry. So he began taking classes after work, often studying math for hours into the night while raising three children with his wife, Nancy.

Once he was finished with his classes, Gielow and his family moved from their Town of Tonawanda home to a two-story log cabin that Gielow built in Holland. He drove 35 miles each way to a new job at General Motors, where he worked in the personnel department.

After he was passed over for a promotion – he said it was probably because he never earned a college degree – he and his wife sold the log cabin, moved to Springville and opened up an ice cream parlor called Home Sweet Home.

The couple operated the parlor for about five years – until 1985 – when they retired and moved to Fort Myers, Fla.

But retired life didn’t suit the Gielows. “I lasted about two months,” Tom Gielow says, “and I got a job driving a school bus.” Not long after, Nancy Gielow started working for the Lee County School District as an attendant for disabled children.

The Gielows worked for 24 more years before they retired for good when Nancy was slowed by sickness.

That isn’t to say Tom Gielow, now 90, is finished working.

“Now, I do all the housework, and I don’t get paid for it,” he says, laughing.