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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Letter #26 from WIlbur C Garner 22 July and 24 July 1944

From the archives of Wilbur C Garner
The XIX Corps was very active fighting their way into the German salient on the way to free the town of St. Lo.  The following text in blue is excerpted from "Normandy to the Elbe." It provides a few details of the Corps activities, between the last letter Mary received from Bill dated July 9th and the letter in this blog entry, dated July 22 - 24 from Wilbur C Garner. 
Upon arriving in St. Lo, France, Bill's impression of the town was tragic. He recounted to me the the sight of the town of St. Lo when the troops rolled in after successfully pushing the Germans out.  "It was a shell of a town, just total devastation, those poor people." He captured a few personal photos which are shared in this blog.

The hedgerows were a great problem tactically, and a lot of people stayed up nights trying to figure out how to beat them. When they did, Ordnance stayed up nights, making the hedgerow cutters they mounted on the tanks, and putting them on. Then we found the TD's needed turret covers to protect the crew from overhead fire. Ordnance designed and made them.

From the archives of Wilbur C Garner
The capture of St. Lo made possible the next move by General Bradley and the First Army to break out of the stalemate of the hedgerows. After 1st Army's Operation Cobra broke trough, XIX Corps moved west of the Vire River, commanding the 29th, 30th and 28th Infantry Divisions and the 2nd Armored.
With the line straightened out, the western sector was transferred to VII Corps, and having the 35th Division to the 29th, XIX Corps turned its attention to St Lo. The fighting that followed will probably rank forever as some of the grimmest and bloodiest American troops fought on the European Continent. When the 29th had ground its way to the edge of the old town, a task force of the 29th and of the 113th Cavalry Group, under Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, Assistant Division Commander of the 29th, went in and took the town, and held it under a rain of fire from the Germans on the ridges to the south. To take it they had to root out and kill off the bitter-enders of the 3rd Parachute Division, fighting from every hole and corner, and stand off a massive armored counterattack.

Coming down that road into St. Lo the morning after, we got a flat from the shell-splinters road, and while we stopped on the roadway to fix it, not daring to pull off because there were so many mines, the ambulances began careening by at full tilt, one right after the other, and then there came a jeep with a couple of cameramen perched on the back, and they stopped to ask if we had a drink for them. We had some Calvados, and the cameramen took a long pull and wiped his mouth, but his eyes were still staring. "It's horrible down there", he said, "I hope never I never have to see anything as horrible again. There aren't enough ambulances, and they're laying the wounded out along a wall. They hit an ammunition truck down there just now, and just about wiped out a battalion." We fixed the tire and moved down the road, and sure enough they had the first corner at the bottom of the hill zeroed in with mortars, and it took us an hour of hitting the ditch to get across and down. And the ambulances kept coming by. We saw one get hit at the corner, and that was too horrible, as the man had said. They were from the 546th Ambulance Company, that Corps outfit, some of them. later on, going back up the road, there were a couple of Aid Stations in the orchards, and the cases had spilled out of the two small tents they had and covered the ground with stretchers, all among the soft green grass and the blossoming trees.
Suddenly the next days the war began to seem endless. Were we going to butt our heads into these hedgerows for months? Wistful questions began coming up from Divisions to the Corps G-2; "How far down does the Bocage country extend? How long before we can break out where we can see?"

18 July:
After bloody street fighting all day, St. Lo falls, at 1900 hours, to task force from 29th Infantry Division; 115th and 116th Infantry Regiments had formed and are about the north and east sides of the city from south of St. Georges Montcocq to south of Ste. Croix de St. Lo to south of Martinville and across Bayeux road to stream north of la Barre.

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

S/Sgt. 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 U.S.A. 

"Somewhere In France"
22 July 1944

Dear Mary, 

Well, Sis, how are you these days? I received the two packages you sent me. The nuts and the other one gum drops and hard candy. Thanks a lot. It is surprising how well the nuts kept.
I had a very interesting conversation with a Polish girl. No I haven't learned Polish and don't know much French. I found out she has a cousin in Chicago and has lived there 30 years. This girl is a servant here and her home is in Krakow, Poland. She has been here for nine years. You should have heard me trying to find out where I could get some Roquefort cheese. I got as far as Roquefort but I couldn't seem to make her understand the cheese part of it. Finally she understood and said the Germans were eating it now. I'd have to wait until we got in that particular sector of the country.

"Somewhere In France"
24 July 1944

Well I didn't get to finish this letter the other night so I'll try once more. I got a letter from Mother today and she had finally received my letters saying I had arrived in France. 

Talk about the irony of it all. She sent me a news paper clipping saying prisoners had arrived at Meade that were captured by the hometown unit. Well we can't all be lucky.

Say, Sis, from your letter, I'd say things are really changing back home. Well I guess there's not much we can do about it. We'll have to change it back when we get home.
It's getting dark now so I'll have to close for now. Take it easy.

Lots of Love,
P.S. How about more nuts Sis. Thanks a lot good luck with your exams.

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