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.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Letter #69 from Wilbur C Garner 23 February 1945

"Alligators at Roer"; solders on 2 amphibious vehicles cross Roer River,
Julich, Germany; ruins in background. by Henry Jay MacMillan

"The first bridge completed across the Roer at Julich";
soldier walks across bridge over Roer River, Julich, Germany
Pontoon float at bottom left; by Henry Jay MacMillan

"Launching the Bailey"; soldiers construct Bailey bridge over Roer River
Julich, Germany; damaged pontoons in foreground.
by Henry Jay MacMillan
After a delay of almost two weeks, forced by the German's blowing of the spillway of the Schwammenauel Dam, the crossing of the Roer River was made on the 23rd of February, before the Germans expected it could be done because the flood had not yet subsided. Here the Corps Engineer units did an amazing job. They built a total of fifteen bridges across the racing flooded river which brought down debris to smash them time after time, besides the fire of artillery, machine guns, and mortars that harassed the operation. Many of the crossings had to be made not only over the river itself, but also over hundreds of feet of flooded area on both sides. One bridge was built and rebuilt nine times. The Corps Artillery covered the assault with a total of more than four hundred tons of shells. The crossing was made by the 29th and 30th Divisions, soon followed by the 2nd Armored and the 83rd.

Colonel Miller said that the dams held a hundred million metric tons of water. If they let it all go it could flood the Roer Valley a thousand yards wide for twenty miles down. All those months of fighting got control of the Erftalsperre, but the lower one was still in Germans hands. And the Germans blew it. When we started it was still racing and flooded, but Corps Engineer had said they could put in the bridges, so the 29th and 30th went ahead. The 1104th Group handled the 29th bridges opposite Juelich. The anchors wouldn't hold at first, and then the cable was shot away three times in a row, and they changed the location once. But they got across under the eye of the Corps Engineer himself. To the south, were the 1115th put the 30th across, it was tougher. There they used alligators at first for the assault across more than 1000 yards of flooded land on each side of the river. And the washed-out roads had to be rebuilt for 1500 yards on each side. The Chemical Warfare Section had the Smoke Generators working and they put down a perfect screen. The enemy artillery landed 1000 yards downstream from the bridge site. When they found an unexploded bomb on the far side abutment they were going to use for the bridge, and their anchors were swept away, it seemed often that they'd never get this bridge in. But it worked, and it was finished - along with bridging a 60 foot canal on the other side - fifteen hours ahead of schedule.

The Corps Artillery moved up close, and had their targets zeroed in when the jump-off came. There was some fire for a while on the bridge sites, but by the time the bridgehead started expanding, the Corps Battalions had silenced every enemy battery, and the attack was started in full momentum. They showed their power when the 30th Division reported a counterattack on the other side of the Hambach Forest. We fired all the Division Artilleries and the complete Corps Artillery, 20 battalions, in a serenade. When the smoke cleared a full German battalion had been wiped out, and six to ten tanks.5 The Corps wheeled up the AA to support the attack too. The 459th AW Bn supported the 29th and the 30th with their Bofors guns, and laid streams of fire on strong-points across the river.

(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
Supply Department
U.S. Naval Air Station
Minneapolis, 6, Minnesota

"Somewhere in Germany"
23 February 1945

Dear Sis,

Howdy! I received the fountain pen tonight. Thanks a lot. I'll tell you what. I'll send my pen to you and see if you can get a point for it. I didn't know you were using this pen until I received the package from you. I dropped my other pen back in December and it stuck into a wooden floor and bent. It almost looked like a pitchfork. I've straightened it out but it writes like a needle. If you can get it fixed you may use it.

Well, I'm really burned up with the mails and also the damn Red Cross. I haven't received any word from Gwen since the 6th and she was scheduled for the hospital on the 8th. I'm very anxious to know what's going on and if everything is OK. I get so darn mad sometimes I could really tear my hair out but it doesn't pay to say much now. I sure wish I'd meet and have some of these people under me after the war is over. I'd show them what it's like to be human. Well I guess that is life.

It has been another nice day today. I hope we have a couple weeks of it with the way things are popping now. Well tomorrow will be another busy day and I'm not kidding.

I got your letter of the 8th yesterday. It was good hearing from you once more. I'll be getting some pictures in the next couple of days and if they are any good I'll send you some. How about a couple of snaps of yourself, Kid?

Well, guess Souil is home by this time once again. How long has he this time? I hope it is at least 15 days. I wish, I thought we would be home by this time next year. I'd be satisfied to sweat it out. It seems to me that most of the people back home think this thing is almost over. Don't kid yourselves. It's still a long road. 

Well, Sis, I guess I'll close for now and hope to hear from you soon. So long for now and take care of yourself.

Loads of Love from Gwen and me,

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