Gerl Returns 66 Years After Dukes Bus Crash

By KBJR News 1

July 30, 2014 Updated Jul 30, 2014 at 11:50 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- If you take a close at Bernie Gerl's wedding ring, you'll notice something isn't quite right. It's the date.

"I still have the rings that are marked wrong because of that," Gerl said.

For Bernie and his wife Bernie, it was the wedding that almost wasn't.

"I had to postpone my wedding."

That's because on July 24, 1948, Gerl was one of 16 aboard the Duluth Dukes bus.

"We were hit head on by a truck."

While six died in the accident, the now 87–year–old Gerl was lucky to make it out alive.

"They tell me after I got out of there, it wouldn't have been much longer, and I would have been unable to cope, unable to breath," he said.

The Joliet, Illinois native spent nearly four months in the hospital recovering.

"I was burned badly. My ears were partly burned off, and I was burned inside, and I inhaled a lot of flame," Gerl said.

Once a top prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals, it also meant Gerl's baseball career would never be the same.

"I went back to play ball in 1950 and find out that my elbow was just a total mess with pain," he said.

What never wavered during that time was his love for the game.

Now, more than 60 years since the crash, Gerl is the lone survivor. He still makes it back to Duluth and Wade Stadium, grandkids and all.

"He just talks baseball," said Ryan Blackburn, Gerl's gradnson. "Whether it's current times or back when he played in the old playing days, he'll tell me about the players he played with."

"He just loves baseball," said Kevin Blackburn, Gerl's grandson.

It's not his only love though.

"Our marriage is now on its 66th year," Gerl said.