About this blog

As the author of this blog, Karen L Garner Martin Messick, I am the daughter of an American soldier, Wilbur (Bill) C. Garner, Sr. and Women's Royal English Navy service woman (British Wren) Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins, who met and married during World War II. They lived and loved for over 50 years before Mother passed in 2000. When she did I helped Dad with every day chores when I could. One day I was helping him clear things out and I lifted a plastic bag out of the seat of Mom's piano stool, asking Dad, "Whats in this bag?" to which he replied, "Just some of Mary's old letters." Mary, his older sister, was still alive at the time, residing in an assisted living facility, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I put the letters back in the piano seat thinking he did not want me to open the letters.
When Dad passed two years later, I inherited Mary's letters.
When I began to read them, I found they were mostly letters from Dad to Mary while he was in World War II ("The War"). I could not put them down. I wished I had opened them the day I first saw them so that Dad and I could have had conversations about them, but that was not to be...so as I read through these "Letters to Mary" I began to get a glimpse into Dad's young years when he met Mom and his time as a soldier. I have researched events during World War II to enhance my understanding of what was happening in the war as each letter came to broaden my understanding of what he might have been experiencing. I knew he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France D-Day plus 1 as he recounted his memory of that day to me when he was dying from Leukemia. It was horrifying. There were also letters from a companion Mary had met while in Minneapolis, he had been deployed overseas. I have entwined them chronologically with Dad's letters as it gives a greater dimension to the war itself. I intend to editorialize as necessary to explain personal relationships and situations as the story unfolds through the "Letters to Mary." I welcome any questions, comments and feedback. As the "Greatest Generation" fades away, I felt compelled to share these letters and story in hopes of continuing the legacy they left for the world. Let us never forget the untold years and lives that were sacrificed for freedom!
If you have stumbled upon this blog I have added a blog archive at the bottom of the blog page. Continue to scroll down to access the Blog Archive. The posts are chronologically listed and to follow the story it is best to start with the first post in December 2013.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Letter #24 from Wilbur C Garner 7 July 1944

 The following text in blue, is found in the XIX Corps Publication " Normandy to the Elbe,"  a copy of which, is in my archives. An excerpt of the content is reproduced here to provide the blog reader a sense of what was taking place in the XIX Corps up to the time the "Letter to Mary" in this blog entry was written.
When the French Major with Civil Affairs came into Isigny he had the first French uniform they (the citizens) had seen for all that time, and they crowded around him, with all the news at once. And soon every town you went to had the office of XIX Corps "Affaires Civiles", and a captain and a couple of sergeants in the mayor's office, with an interpreter; and the patient farmers sat in the ante-room waiting to go in and see the officer and ask their questions. There was that creamery Civil Affairs fixed up at St. Marguerite where the refugees were taken and fed, and sat around gossiping, waiting for a chance to go back to their homes. And in St. Clair on the 14th of July, Bastille Day, the band of the 29th played in the little square, and the children of the town carried flowers to the monument of the Poilu, and the veterans of the last war stood stiffly in their black suits, and Colonel Price made a speech, and they couldn't seem quite to realize that France was free, at least this little part of it. Isigny was a wreck, the center of it, but there was still the cheese factory, and you could get wine once in a while, and the combination was good for eking out K-rations. We began to get pretty tired of K-rations.

The first week in July the 30th Division went to work on the salient which the Germans had kept west of the river Vire, a salient which reached menacingly toward the sea at Carentan, where they were able to keep the bridge on the one road there under intermittent artillery fire. On July 7th the 30th crossed the Vire from the east and the Vire and Taute Canal from the north, and, joined by the 3rd Armored, slugged its way down through St. Jean de Day, to erase the salient.

The Corps Commander needed more and fuller information on the yard-by-yard situation than he could get from the Regimental Commanders and staffs, who had their own worries. He talked about it to Colonel Carl Jones, the Deputy Chief of Staff, and major Roy Attebury went to work to organize it. Men from the 2nd Signal battalion drove the jeeps and worked the 193 radio, and every day the officers of the Combat Liaison Section went out to where the attack was the hottest to radio back the details the Corps Commander would need to make his decisions. Whenever you came to the CP of whatever regiment or battalion was making the attack, Capt. Bill Dollahite, or Sam Salzman, scribbling up the dope for his radio operator to encode. Toward evening thy'd come back to the CP and go report to the Chief of Staff, General Maguire, G-3 Colonel Gustav West and the G-2 Washington Platt. Or they'd bring back some special supply problem of the front line units and the G-4 Colonel O'Shea would go to work on it.

The day they crossed the Vire River, and the Vire et Taute Canal, the Combat Liaison was on the job. You came down this long hill to the river, along the road where they'd knocked out the 88, and down at the end of it was where they wanted to put the bridge. This was the first important XIX Corps operation, and the Engineers wanted to make it good. They did. The 228th Field Artillery Battalion hedged off a 200 yard bridgehead with HE and smoke, and twenty minutes later that troublesome little river, thirty feet across, was bridged, the vehicles were back in hiding and the armor was pouring over the bridge to clear the way for the 30th.

There was the little man who was roads and bridges engineer for the French government in the area. He knew the roads, and the river and canal like the back of his hand. The MII Team attached to G-2 had gone out and found him, and brought the first of his information to the Engineers. He and Colonel Hodges of the Engineer Section became great friends. Very soon we were raising and lowering the water level in that canal to fit all the needs of the moment: low when we wanted to cross, high to guard our flanks. We raised the river suddenly one night, by six feet, and caught and drowned some German horse-drawn artillery on an underwater bridge they had built at Pont Hebert.

Text: Captain Fredric E. Pamp Jr (Public Relations Officer XIX Corps 1945) 

Text below in black is excerpted from the XIX Corps Newspaper  
Volume 2         Western Front Germany, October 1944        Number 6 (from my archives)


On July 7the Corps attacked to reduce the German salient west of the Vire River which reached up to three or four miles of Carenten. The attack was launched by the 30th Infantry Division. After this division had established a bridgehead south of the canal and west of the Vire River, it was joined by the 3d Armored Division, and together the two divisions slugged it until by July 16 the German salient within the XIX Corps zone was wiped out. At that time the line west of the Vire River was transferred to VII Corps, which assumed command of both the 30th Inf Div and the 3d Armored Div.

S/Sergeant Wilbur C. Garner, 33377578
G-1 Section, Hq XIX Corps
APO 270, c/o Postmaster, N.Y.

Mary W. Garner, SK2c
Disbursing Office
U.S. Naval Air Station
Minneapolis, Minnesota

7 July 1944
"Somewhere in France"

Dear Mary,

Well, Sis, how are tricks? Boy it has been rather hot here today. A very sudden change. It has been very nasty for the past week.
Has anything been happening to you, that is of particular interest? 

I was thinking about Souil on the 4th and wondering whether or not he was able to get home for his birthday. Boy, I surely hope he could. I know it will make a big difference to him. I wish I could help him. Well, he is soon rolling up one years service. In the meantime, I'm nearing two. 

Oh my what a life. It can't last forever. That's about the only consolation there is. I haven't heard from home for about five days now. I guess everything is OK.
Say do you remember that conserved fruit you sent me sometime ago? Well it surely tastes good today. I told you there would be harder days. Thanks again.

You should see my hair. I've had it all but shaven. I have about 1/4 of an inch left all over the top. What a sight!
Well Sis there is not much news now so I guess I'll close. This is just a few lines to let you know I'm OK.

Lots of Love
P.S. Good luck with your exams for SK1c. Boy won't you be the cat's meow.

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