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.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Letter# 36 from WIlbur C Garner 18 September 1944

When you picked up the phones about this time you'd hear a buzzing sound and the operator would tell you "You're on radio link, guard your conversation." The Signal boys had to lay just as much wire, but this kept communications in better. It was something new, but it solved an old problem.

One night it was rainy and foggy, and there were more than the usual number of German pockets. The Army said all movements that weren't absolutely necessary should be cancelled, but the Corps Rear didn't hear him, and the Adjutant General's Section led them on a 162 mile night march from Sourdeval to Acon.

We were really moving fast, and no one knew it better than Ordnance who had to pick out spots for Ammunition Supply Points well in advance. On September 2nd they picked one off the map, but by evening it was already 75 miles too far back. Major Heist had a solution. He told them to get 100 trucks on the road and rolling, and he'd go ahead and have an ASP ready to guide them into when they came up. He was the man the Artillery looked to to keep the Ammo rolling to their guns, and he never let them down. But he ran into a pocket, and the SS ambushed him and killed him, with Sergeant Zan Hassin, just southwest of Valenciennes. But the ammunition got to the troops. 

The marches went by long stretches of road, littered with the debris of a fleeing army: dead horses (already partly butchered and the meat carried off by the thrifty Belgians), destroyed wagons, artillery pieces, trucks and supplies.

(Nobody knew about it when it was going on, but hardly had the Corps moved into Maastricht when young men of the Dutch Resistance were out in the street looking for the G-2. They had a telephone system, they said, which the Germans didn't know about, and we could call through to almost anywhere behind the German lines: Roermond, Venlo, and find out what we wanted to know. So they were installed in a room at Civil Affairs, with their telephone, and a few maps, and when G-2 wanted to know something particularly important, the Dutch boys would crank their phone and speak quietly for a few minutes, and usually they'd have the answer. It was quite simple and quite unbelievable. Finally, however, the Germans blew a bridge the wires ran across and it was all over. They sent three of the Resistance men up to find out what was on, and they never came back. Nobody knows what happened to them. But they can guess.)

(The Germans had some tricks still in their bag. On September 25th they chased out 30,000 people from Kerkrade, just in front of their lines, and drove them on the roads down toward our lines. They killed 15 of them by artillery fire on the way, and wounded fifty more. The G-5 Section went to work and by night all these refugees were sheltered and fed, and the roads were clear for the Army.)

The rest of September the Corps held along the border of Germany, and prepared its plans and supplies to smash through the Siegfried Line, while the British and American Airborne troops made their gallant attempt to turn the north flank of the German line at Arnheim. The weather began to worsen, and we realized with the beginning of October that, barring miracles, we were in for a winter war. The 29th Division came back to the Corps from its siege of Brest. The attack for the Siegfried Line was delayed until this veteran division could come up and guard the Corps exposed left flank. In the maze of waterways and swamp that marked the borders of Holland and Germany there to the north was a definite threat to the First Army, since the British were turning their attention north.

(For the big operations, and for the newspapers it was a rest, a pause before the storm, but the 113th Cavalry was holding and attacking alternately up around Sittard, and the 2nd TD Group under the tough, seasoned leadership of Col. George G. Elms, went up to take over and work with the Belgian Brigade on an attack northeast toward Roermond. And the AA outfits never rested; they fired their weapons in ground roles, and they had a rule that was unbreakable: never to fire on a plane unless it was definitely identified as enemy, even if it attacked them. The Corps Signal Officer, Colonel Cerwin was finding underground cables to use for our communications, and soon we didn't have much wire above ground any more. All the coal mines in the area had their own telephone systems. Colonel Platt, G-2, and the Signal Officer conducted a very successful joint campaign for the discovery and use of unsuspected communication lines extending into enemy territory.)

(Text: Captain Fredric E. Pamp Jr (Public Relations Officer XIX Corps 1945)
S/Sergent Wilbur C. Garner, 33377578
G-1 Section, Hq XIX Corps
APO 270, c/o Postmaster, N.Y.

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

"Somewhere in Belgium"
18 September 1944

Dear Mary,

How are you this morning Sis? I hope everything is OK with you. I haven't had time to write you in the last couple of days.

I'm now on my way back to the U.K. for 10 days so don't expect any letters for about a week or so. I received your package mailed on the 15th July a couple of days ago. The one with sardines, tuna, meat spread, and gum drops. Thanks a lot. 

I also received one from Mother, same date. They were the first I've received for about one month. Boy they were really welcomed too.

So you are not to be transferred from Minneapolis. Well if that were me, like to see the West Coast and would be very dissapointed. I like to change scenes once in awhile.
This is just a short note to let you know I'm OK and don't expect to hear from me for about 10 days.

Lots of Love,
P.S. Just stopped a few minutes en route.

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