Before he was a legend, Gordie Peer was a Marine

OKEECHOBEE — Local legend Gordie Peer is known as a stunt man, a cowboy and a Wild West entertainer, but what might not be known about Gordie is before he was any of those things, he was a Marine. Raised in Canandaigua (which is the Indian word for the chosen spot), N.Y., Gordie enlisted in the Marines immediately after his high school graduation. One of his high school friends said they would all soon be drafted anyway and they might as well go enlist in the branch they wanted to be in. So, the three friends, Gordie, Tom Parker and Richard Whipple, all went together to enlist.

Gordie Peer enlisted in the Marines immediately after his high school graduation.

Because Tom and Gordie both had last names beginning with the letter P, they were in line side by side and ended up staying together throughout their entire tour even being discharged at the same time. Richard, on the other hand, was transferred. Basic training was done at Paris Island, S.C. and they traveled by train because Gordie said cars and buses weren’t around then. After basic, they went to Camp Lejeune for advanced training and then to the island of Vieques for an advanced training program.

Veteran and local legend Gordie Peer shares his story at the local library. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

The island of Vieques was used as a military training ground for ship-to-shore artillery training. It is off the coast of Puerto Rico, he explained. They trained the Navy there. Gordie’s unit was being trained for infantry under fire. He was there for over a year. One of the main things he remembers training for on the island was night reconnaissance. They very seldom went out in the day time, but if they did, they wore dark purple glasses sealed all around the edges so they would see better at night. They were training to go do night recon but the conflict ended. In night recon, he explained, the goal is never to engage in conflict. You are supposed to go into enemy territory without being spotted to get information. You get in and get out. You do not carry a weapon. If you do come into contact with the enemy, you kill with your bare hands. To this day, he said he sees better at night because of this training. He said he can step out of his house at night and see a rabbit running across his yard.

He also remembers simulating landings off ships for the movie “Battle Cry.” This was a training exercise for the Marines, but it was filmed for use in the movie. Gordie remembers it as being terrible. They did it just like it was an actual battle, he said.

“We were out there on the water for hours. The water was rough. You get on those landing crafts, and they are bobbing around like a cork, and you hit the water, and there is artillery fire and everything.”

When he enlisted, he enlisted under a program called “Indefinites,” which had just come out. While most people enlisted for two years or four years. Indefinites were kept as long as there was a national emergency, whether it was ten years or two years, but as soon as the emergency was over, they were released. The program did not last long, he said, because it was confusing, and no one ever knew how long they were serving. You were always on-call. He and his friend Tom ended up serving two years before being released because the Korean conflict ended. Gordie went into the active reserves then and served from 1952 until 1959.

After discharge, he went into show business. He started off doing stunts. He had always handled guns, ropes and whips, he said, so he could be used where they needed someone who wasn’t just falling off a horse. Then he began training people to handle ropes and whips and knives. He trained Lash Larue to use a whip, and he became very good friends with Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger. He worked with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and many others, but his closest friend from that world was Clayton Moore.

In 1959, while living in Colorado, Gordie was asked to represent the Florida Cattlemen’s Association in The Florida Previews, which was a show the state of Florida had put together to try to increase tourism in Florida. Many businesses and amusements in Florida sent representatives to the show, and the Cattlemen’s Association wanted to send someone to represent them. Pete Clemmons was in charge of finding someone, Gordie said, and they couldn’t find anyone here so he called his brother Bud in Colorado. His brother and Gordie were friends at that time, and that’s how Gordie, who lived in Colorado, ended up representing Florida in the show. After the show, Bud suggested they both come to Florida to visit his brother Pete. “He told me I should go because I was representing them and didn’t even know what they were,” said Gordie.

After his visit to Florida, Gordie said he went back to Colorado and got stuck in a snowbank. He decided that was enough of that and moved to Florida. He has been in Okeechobee since 1960. He bought some property here, and although he traveled eight months out of the year back then, when he was in town, he worked at the livestock market and the post office.

Gordie often gives talks at the library and loves to teach the younger generation all the things he has learned over the years.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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