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.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Letter #39 from Wilbur C Garner 25 October 1944

Bill and Gwen's wedding day September 26, 1944
Gwen on her Honeymoon from the
archives of Gwendoline W. Garner

Honeymoon Hotel from the archives of Gwendoline W. Garner

Bill and Gwen "Just married" wedding procession September 26, 1944

Bill on honeymoon September 1944.

Gwen on honeymoon September 1944
As Bill began his journey back into the battlefield from the UK, the attack on the Siegfried line began by the XIX Corps. His "Letter to Mary" follows the narrative in blue from the Corps publication, "Normandy to the Elbe," describing the events at that time.
 Finally the attack began on October 2nd, with the 30th Division racing down a long slope and across the Wurm River to smash through the Siegfried Line at Palenberg and Rimburg. The 29th Division did its part with diversionary attacks around Geilenkirchen. The 2nd Armored crossed through the line the next day, and took Ubach alongside the 30th, then turned north to defend the bridgehead. The 30th turned south, and repulsing constant counterattacks, made slow but steady progress south to join with VII Corps and close the pocket around Aachen. The Germans brought up reinforcements from all along the whole Western Front to hold this breakthrough, but all the counterattacks they could throw in were repulsed or made good. By 16th of October, slugging, heart-breaking, close-in fighting against the best that the German Army had, brought the 30th, and the 116th Infantry fighting with it, to contact with the 1st Division, and Aachen was encircled.

The Corps Surgeon, Colonel Rumpf, knew that the problem would come, and when all the outfits began talking about their Trench Foot cases, he had them make up thousands of little bottles with oil and oil of peppermint mixture, with the label saying "Rub this on your feet every day and prevent Trench Foot." They say our average number of cases was low compared to other Corps.

It was cold and damp and raw, when it wasn't raining, and a few days of that kind of fighting was enough to drive them crazy, the men up front. The Corps began to set up Rest Centers. All of Valkenberg was one big Rest Center, run by the 426th Medical Collecting Company. They ran eight hotels, and Civil Affairs helped them to find sheets and linen to give the guy from the foxhole a taste of civilized living again. And the Red Cross and Special Services made Heerlen, the clean little town where the Corps Command Post was, into another island of rest for the GI. Corps Artillery took over the hot baths hotel at Aachen and made its own Rest Center, with the best of chow, hot baths, clean sheets, and even a bar.

All this bitter time the drizzly cold Fall was closing in and the warmth and light of the previous summer seemed like the memories of another world. We made fast friends in Holland, and the Corps Headquarters found a second home in the clean little city of Heerlen, which made a record of hospitality and kindness to the American soldier that could not have been equaled. They had their problems, intensified by shortages of food and clothing, of limitations on their activities, by increased danger from shelling and bombing, but they never let us forget their gratitude for what the men of the American Army were doing to give them back their freedom.

Nobody could explain what the stuff was at first, the night it came in. Some said it was a new kind of V weapon, remembering that we had been the first recipients of the V-2 when we were in Maastricht. But the Artillery said it was a 280mm Railroad Gun somewhere to the south, just lining in on the town of Heerlen. Anyway they had a new kind of fuse they guessed, because they seemed to adjust with air burst, and then bring them down to ground. The first night they made two hits on the hotel where the Red Cross girls stayed, and Colonel Goodwin had just marshaled them all downstairs in their hotel when the fragments peppered many of the rooms. They took it all like a picnic, and the officers mess at the Grand Hotel the next morning was considerably dressed up, with lovely girls in negligees, for breakfast. The next time they began coming in near the station, and started fires in the hotel where the Rear Echelon Officers lived. That was a lively place for that night, and Corps Headquarters ambulance had a job. But it was more a break in the monotony that they made than anything else. The Corps Artillery had the gun spotted and made it move several times. And later VII Corps found the wreck of a 280mm gun in their sector. We may have hit it, at that.

By the middle of October the men of the American Army were taking another hitch in their courage, and facing the grim fact that it was still a long way to Berlin. Preparations went on to move forward in the inching village-to-village fighting to and across the next natural barrier that faced us, the Roer River. General Corlett, who had ably led the Corps all across France and Belgium and to the edge of Germany was recalled to the United States for other duties, and Major General Raymond S. McLain arrived on October 18th from command of the 90th Division to be the new Corps Commander. His was a record of action and leadership that augured well for the Corps, and so it has proved. A machine-gun Company Commander in the last war, he had led his troops under fire in some of the fiercest fighting of this one. He had made the landings in Sicily, at Salerno, and Anzio. He had come to France as Artillery Commander of the 30th Division, had taken over the 90th Division in mid-campaign and built it into an outstanding fighting division. Most of his long list of decorations were won under fire, actually leading his troops, and his unmistakable mark has been on all the subsequent operations of this fighting Corps: in its thorough planning and preparation, its speed and daring in attack and maneuver, its recognition of the problems of the doughboys and tankers, and the constant insistence on the least possible cost of every operation in human lives.

(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 Department
U.S. Naval Air Station
Minneapolis, Minnesota

U.S.A. "Somewhere in Holland"
25 October, 1944

Dear Sis, 

Well I guess you really thought I had deserted you. Nope. You were wrong. Conditions were such that I could not write. I finally arrived back with my unit on the evening of the 23rd. What a trip I had coming back. It took me 23 days. Going out it only took 4 days. What a difference!

I received about four packages from you when I got back. The one with fruit the nuts, the chewing gum and one more I think. I also had about two packages from Mother and one from Bernard. What a jack-pot. Well it sort of piled up on me so I sorted some out and made two nice boxes to send to Gwen. Now I can keep up with them.

You mentioned that you were sending Gwen a silk nightie for Christmas. I hope you get the right size. I'll give you some of her sizes now so you'll have them. She takes a 36 blouse or sweater. Size 10 stockings. Hips are 40 inches. I guess that's, I think that is all you have to know. Gwen is a good size girl. She is about 5ft 6inches and weighs about 154. Stocky huh!

Well my stay in England was very pleasant. We had 6 precious days together or rather 5 1/2. Do you remember when I was home in June 43 and you & I were in the attic talking. I guess I was foolish & also selfish to say I would never marry again because I'd never find anyone I could love as much as Betty. Gwen is really a wonderful person and I know she is very happy. She has certainly given me some very comforting and happy hours. I know we will always be as happy as we are today and happier still when things are over and we can all be together.

So you wanted Gwen to come out to Minneapolis and stay with you for awhile. Well Bernard & Jane wanted to get a larger apartment so she could stay with them & Harriet wanted to come all the way from Florida to meet her. Well its a darn good one. At least they are all anxious to help one another out. I think it is swell the way every one feels.

Mary, as you, Mother & Dad and Harriet suggested, I have decided to just tell anyone back there we were married secretly on 26th April and not mention the circumstance to Bernard & Jane. Miss Dashiel said she noticed a plain golden ring on Gwen's finger in those pictures on the River and she said she thought as much so. Dad just let it go and said yes, sometime this spring but he didn't have full particulars. I've told Gwen about Bernard & Jane.

You mentioned in your letter of the 8th of October that you can get canned meats of fish. If you can send me some cheese & some of those good old kippered herring or sardines I'd like to have some. Thanks a lot for those other packages.

You asked when Gwen is going to leave for the States. She would like to remain with her Mother until after the blessed event. I'm going to try to write the American Consulate in London tonight and get the particulars. I think she can get passage with a friend of hers who is a Bomber Ferry Pilot. If that's the case, all she needs is the passport.

Well, Sis, I guess I'll close for now and hope to hear from you real soon again.

Lots of Love from Gwen & I,

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