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 29, 2014

Letter #32 from Wilbur C Garner August 28 1944

The narrative below describes the activities of the XIX corps in the time between Bill's last letter to Mary dated August 8 and the letter in this blog entry dated August 28. The text originlly appeared in the book Normandy to the Elbe published by the XIX Corps.
Tessy sur Vire was taken on August 2nd, and by the 5th the Corps had covered 18 miles of hedgerows and was assaulting Vire. The 29th Division took it on the night of August 6th.

There was still heavy fighting to be done on this shoulder of the pocket, and the Germans who had brought over all their armor from the British sector, made one more thrust to try to cut off the great flanking drive. The 30th Division, then under VII Corps, took the brunt of that attack at Mortain, and blunted and finally drove it back, in a magnificent stand. XIX Corps had its part in holding the attack, and finally in helping to bottle up nearly 100,000 Germans in the Falaise-Argentan pocket. From the 13th to the 17th of August the Corps pushed northeast; then it shifted to the east and from the vicinity of Brezolles drove due north to cut off the Germans trying to escape across the Seine at a narrow shoulder of the river from Elbeuf to Quellebeuf. It was XIX Corps who stopped them. The 30th took Evreux and advanced beyond; the 28th followed the 2nd Armored beyond Conches up to Elbeuf, where the powerful 2nd Armored for two days and two nights, slaughtered everything that tried to cross the river. On August 25th they reached Elbeuf itself, and Corps made contact with the Canadians to the north. That marked the end of the German Seventh Army.

These were the days when they were giving France away to us. This was something different from Normandy: the streets black with people, who seemed to do nothing twenty-four hours a day but stand there and cheer us and wave, and weep, some of them, and throw us flowers and fruit and vegetables, and stare wide-eyed at the trucks and jeeps and tanks. What always got them most were the Tank Retrievers that filled the whole road, with red lights blinking, and all armored up like something from Mars, and the Long Toms and 8 inch Hows. They loved them! 

From the archives of Wilbur C Garner
The XIX Corps Artillery got to be known as the best aggregation in Normandy. Under Brigadier General George Shea, they were just as tough as he was, and they demanded the best from every man and gun they had. The Divisions early had enough confidence in the Corps Artillery to take chances of counterattacks they otherwise wouldn't take, because they knew that Axel, the Fire Direction Center would lay in in a matter of seconds on any threat that appeared. The FDC was bombed pretty hard for three nights running near Ste. Marguerite. There were casualties, but they never stopped turning out the fire.

There was that CP we had in that dense woods, behind the chateau they were using for a children's home. And the little wizened Frenchman of the FFI who had come down from the group he led to tell us where they were holding a couple hundred Germans surrounded, but they couldn't clean them out because they didn't have enough arms, and the ammunition was running low. The G-2 sent him down to the 30th in a jeep to lead a patrol for them out there. An he sat in the jeep shaking his head with a quiet wonder, saying "I never thought I'd ever live to see it. All the rest who were with me when we started have been shot, and I really never believed I'd be alive this day!"

He was really amazed, and he kept touching his fingers to the back of his other hand as if to verify something he couldn't quite believe. His pocket was right in the line of the 30th's attack for the next morning, so they were glad to see him and gave him a dinner, but he kept shaking his head in that funny way, and saying the same thing over and over.

The bulk of the rest of the German Army in the west was now in full retreat. The Corps swung east to where XV Corps had made a crossing of the Seine, at Mantes-Gassicourt, where the 79th held a bridgehead, passed through and made after the Germans. The Germans might stop and fight in strength almost anywhere, and they did fight for river crossings and terrain features. But the drive of the Corps gave them no chance to organize anywhere. The Corps crossed the Seine on August 28th, by September 1st the Corps advance elements had crossed the Somme, and at 0930 in the morning of September 3rd were into Belgium, the first Allied troops across the border. Tournai, the first large town in Belgium was taken the same day.

They sent Colonel Biddle and the 113th to cover the right flank of the Corps on the north side of Paris. The Engineers of the Corps threw seven bridges over the Seine, and one of them took the place of the road-bridge blown by the Germans at St. Germain. Now the Corps Commander could cover his right flank there and go hell-for-leather for the Belgian border. For three of the seven bridges the Engineers had to clear the opposite bank themselves, before they could put them in. That operation of the cavalry was slightly nuts, said the men of the 113th Group. When you're ducking 88's and being kissed by beaucoup beautiful girls at the same time; when the cafes open up, give away all their wine, and you dance in the streets while a burpgun is still rattling away within a block, that's a funny kind of war. But it was that way all the way up through those towns, Sartrouville and the rest.

Now the battle became the Battle of Supply. Trucks that should have been used to bring up gasoline and keep the dumps close behind the advance were continually pressed into services to carry troops in the pursuit. There just weren't enough trucks, and artillery ammunition again became a critical item until the resistance dropped off even more. For several days the Corps had to mark time until enough gas was accumulated to push on.

Civil Affairs ant the Resistance reported a few caches of German gasoline, but the G-4 was finally becoming desperate for more supplies. everybody asked each other about it every morning, and the G-4 was always full of liaison officers or visitors from higher headquarters explaining why they should get just one can of gas to get home. Major Marshall, Assistant G-4 finally got a liaison plane and went up to look over the canals in that part of Belgium, looking for tank barges. Then the QM sent out and tested the gas in it. We got 30,000 gallons that way. G-4 could always tell to a gallon how much there was in the dumps, and the heads always turned his way at the Staff meetings before any plan was discussed.
(Text: Captain Fredric E. Pamp Jr (Public Relations Officer XIX Corps 1945) 

From the archives of Wilbur C Garner
From the archives of Wilbur C Garner

From the archives of Wilbur C Garner

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

Mary W. Garner, SK2c
U.S. Naval Air Station
Supply Office
Minneapolis, Minnesota (6)

U.S.A. "Somewhere in France"
August 28, 1944

Dear Sis,

It has been about two weeks since I last wrote you but I haven't really had the chance. In fact I haven't even been able to scribble a note to Gwen for about 10 days. Let Mother know I'm still kicking in case I can't drop her a line. 

I've been trying to get you a couple of souvenirs of France but I haven't had a chance to even do that. The weather here has been fairly good and I've got some nice pictures I hope to get developed some day soon. I hope the film does not go bad before I get a chance to have them developed.

I think I owe you about four letters. I'm sorry I haven't been able to answer them. You said you had some canned meats & sardines if I want them. I surely do & thanks a lot.

You also asked me what you could send Gwen. I'll leave that up to you. You said I'd have to write for it. Oh well I'll ask for something in my next letter.

I guess Harriet will shortly be heading south to Florida. So you finally got your transfer to the Supply Office. I surely hope you like it better than the Disbursing Office. If your station is closed down, I hope they ship you someplace where you can see more of the U.S.A. I'd Like to ship to the West Coast before I leave the Army.

Well Sis, I'll say so long for now and hope to hear from you again soon. Say, "Hello" to all the folks for me.

Lots of Love and Luck,

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