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, April 2, 2014

Epilogue: Dear Mary "Letters from The War"

“Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.” 

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

When the United States entered "The War" the leaders of our country were wise to know the lesser evil. Though millions of men, women and children were lost in the war, many more are free and the world is surely a better place today as a result of the defeat of Hilter's Germany, Emperor Hirohito's Japan, and Mussolini's Italy in World War II.

World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed, (though there are estimates today up to 80 million) which was over 2.5% of the world population. It is staggering to think of the human losses in "The War." (There is a table of deaths by country and very good information on casualties on Wikipedia.)
The tragic loss of human life as a result of "The War" in comparison to today's population, would be equal to literally wiping out all human life in the states of California, Texas and New York. It is unfathomable!

 The "Letters to Mary" however, would not exist had there been no war.

It was "The War" that brought Gwen and Bill and Henri and Mary together while spinning millions of other lives apart. It is hard to see through the horrors of war, and see the goodness of war, but indeed there is, though it may be diminished by the scale of tragedies.

It is hard for a human to even imagine the future paths of our lives, and yet so very easy to look back. We do not know and can not foresee our own fates and it is probably best that way! One thing for sure, one day our lives on this earth will end!

And this blog of "Letters to Mary" has also come to an end...

As we are approaching the 70th anniversary this June 6, 2014, of the landing of allied forces on the the beaches of Normandy France, the "Greatest Generation" is passing on and all but gone. 

Soon all their voices will be silent. Their lives committed to papers only. 

My hope for humanity would be from the lessons of "The War" that we not forget the evil forces of man that walk beside us and that we always know how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and that we will be given the wisdom of choosing the lesser evil. 

It is not possible to say why these letters survived or why I felt compelled to commit them to this blog....only that they did and I did. 

In closing and to share a few poignant quotes of relevance from Marcus Tullius Cicero


“The life given us, by nature is short; but the memory of a well-spent life is eternal.”


"The only excuse for war is that we may live in peace unharmed."


“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” 

(This quote was supplied by my sister Carol Ann Garner Clements and led me to search for more closing quotes that had relevance to the end of this post and project)


“The life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living. The love you gave in life keeps people alive beyond their time. Anyone who was given love will always live on in another's heart.” 

“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquities. 


“The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.”


And now I have to get on with my life!  I hope those who followed along enjoyed the journey! 

I am thankful to be the daughter of an American Soldier and his English bride.

Karen Lynne Garner Martin Messick 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mary returns home to Baltimore 10 September 1945 ~ life after "The War"

Mary Willis Garner, storekeeper First Class V10 USNR was honorably discharged from the U.S. Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois and from the Naval Service of the United States the 10th day September 1945 after 31 months of service. She served from 25 February 1943 until 10 September 1945. Upon discharge, she received an honorable Service Lapel Pin and emblems. Her service during 'The War" was represented by one of the four stars in her Mothers Service Flag.

Mary returned to her parents home at 2425 Calverton Heights Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, where she and Bill were reunited later that month. 
In November 1945,  after spending two months at home, Mary went to Washington, DC where she set up her home and was employed by the Navy in a civilian capacity.  Mary always lived in small apartments. As a child I visited on occasional weekends, and enjoyed spending time with Aunt Mary. For as long as she was employed in Washington, DC she never drove a car. She took the trains back and forth to visit Baltimore and Bill (Dad) often picked her up at Camden Station. Bill (Dad) would drive to Washington on occasion and bring Mary back to Baltimore for a visit.
Mary purchased a home on Kevin Road in the neighborhood of Edmondson Village, Baltimore for her parents to live in some time after she established herself in Washington, DC. She returned to Kevin Road often to visit and maintained a room there as well. 
Souil Wade Garner on the piano and Carol Ann by his side.
Standing from left to right, and joining in the singing of
hymns, Gwen, Bernard and Souil William Garner.
Circa 1949

Mary's mother Phoebe Emma Biggs Garner passed away in 1967 at the age of 87 and was laid to rest in Druid Hill Cemetery, Baltimore, Md.

Her father Soul Wade Garner passed away in 1972 at the age of 87 and was laid to rest along side his wife in Druid Hill Cemetery, Baltimore, Md
Bill and Mary dissolved their parents marital home.
Mary continued to work in the Department of the Navy until she retired after 30 years of service in 1972. While employed she continued her education, received promotions and retired with the title of Deputy Director of the Property Accounting Department, Navy Regional Finance Center, in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia. 

Upon her retirement, at the age 0f 63, Mary moved to an apartment in Randallstown, Md. near her remaining family, Bill and Gwen, Soul and Harriet, and Bernard and Jane.

Phoebe Emma Biggs Garner, Mary's Mother and Souil Wade Garner, Mary's Dad.
Mary with her nieces, Carol Ann Garner and Patricia Lee Garner and
nephew Wilbur C Garner Jr. Christmas 1951.

The following was written by Mary, and found by Bill when he was clearing her apartment in 1996, preparing to move her into assisted living quarters. 
He typed up her notes and titled the document as follows when he passed it on to me. 

"Musings, written by my sister, Mary W. Garner, found among her belongings upon clearing out her apartment, preparatory to her move to SUNRISE of Pikesville, on 5 June 1996." ~ Wilbur C. Garner 


CHRISTMAS 1970 ~ Mary Willis Garner

" The first Christmas that no member of the family, except Souil and Harriet, visited at our house (Pop's and mine at Kevin Road). Also, the first Christmas that the family did not have a real "get together." 

On Christmas Day, Souil & Harriett invited us to dinner. Only Pop, I, Bill and Gwen accepted and, of course, Jessie May was already there. 

Karen, Dale, and their first baby Rachael; Carol, Bruce and Christy Jane (2yr 10 mos.) visited with Harriett until about 4:00 p.m. (about an hour after we arrived), then all departed for different destinations. We ate about 5:00p.m. Then watched TV until 8:00 p.m. Souil and Harriet drove us home. Bill and Gwen left just a few minutes before we did.

I had been sick with a sinus cold this week preceding Christmas and Bill drove to Arlington on Wednesday night and picked up "Bag and Baggage" and took me to Baltimore. As a result of my misery there was no chocolate cake, coconut cake, or special cookies or fixings at Pop's. This probably saved the day (and the weight) for all over-weight dieters. Specifically, Souil, Harriet, Wilbur, Gwen. Three of us are under doctor's directions to lose weight. As of now, I think only Souil has been really successful. He has high blood pressure; Wilbur has weak abdominal tissue problem, and I have circulatory ailment. So you see, time has caught us all (except Bernard). In spite of his leg difficulty and asthma, he seems to keep going with much verve and vigor.

We went to Bernard's house for the day after Christmas (Saturday) and young Bernard, Jr. and Elaine visited. Everyone seemed in excellent spirits and, again, all were troubled with excess weight except Jane and Patricia. As always, they are quite comfortably lean--at least not over-weight. The two dogs were like children, competing for everyone's attention and they are quite smart and intelligent!

Then Sunday, Pop and I were invited to Bill's house. He picked us up about noon. We had dinner about 2:00 p.m. Wilbur Jr., and Carole, finally arrived from Blacksburg about 1:00 p.m. for a two-day visit with his mother and father. He graduated from VPI a few days before Christmas. They left about 4:30 to visit someone else. Bill and Gwen drove me back to Arlington, Va., and Pop seemed to enjoy the ride. None of them came in, only to bring my packages upstairs and then left immediately.

Somehow, the holiday seemed an immense disappointment. There are no more considerate responses between the family units, the great grand children only see Pop about twice a year for perhaps an hour or two. The grandchildren never call and never visit. It is disheartening to watch the little superficial gestures and see the total lack of indifference to Pop. No one asks him or wants him to play the Christmas Hymns, either at home or at Bernard's, and Bernard does not want him to ever to touch their organ. For what reason, I do not know and cannot fathom. We seemed to have reached a state of total disregard for, or lack of understanding of the individual members of the family groups.

I found the situation most distressing and depressing and could hardly restrain my tears until I reached the solitude of my apartment on Sunday evening.

It hardly seems possible that Dad will be with us next year. He seems to have the unconscious attitude that with each gathering he is saying his "farewells," at least it seems this way to me. I know I cannot keep him and yet I cannot let him go. It seems he is gradually withdrawing by letting go here with one hand and holding out the other for a "step across the road", Sometimes I feel I cannot watch the going.

CHRISTMAS 1971 ~ Mary Willis Garner

So many things are changed this year. Gwen invited the entire family to their house for Christmas Day.
None of the Bernard Garner family accepted. We really missed Jane & Bernard, Elaine, Bunny and Patricia. They all had dinner at Bernard, Sr.'s for dinner. This replaced the regular Christmas get-together with them. While it was nice to visit, it did not seem like Christmas. 

On the 22nd December, Bill and Gwen came to Kevin Road and put up Pop's tree. We had a lovely dinner together.

On the 24th December, Souil, Harriet, Jessie May, Wilbur, Jr., & Carole had dinner with Pop and me at Kevin Road. We had a 2:00 p.m. dinner so that Souil could get home before total darkness because of his eye problem. The dinner, again, was fine and everyone in a pleasant mood. 

Jessie Mae (Harriet's sister) does seem to have recovered completely from the breast removal operation last September. She looks fine.

Harriet had such a bad cold she could hardly breathe and really did not seem her regular peppy self. 
Pop was somewhat more quiet than usual. No one played or sang Christmas songs. No one turned on the TV because no Christmas programs were scheduled. Pop did not once touch the piano during my visit 22nd thru 25th. We were both "pushing around" either preparing food, visiting or being visited.

Christmas day I drove my car and we went to Bill's around noon. Carol & Bruce and Christy would be leaving for dinner at the Clement's at 6:00 p.m. Karen, Dale and Rachael would go to the Martin's for another late dinner and , of course, Souil, Harriet and Jessie Mae would want to be in before dark.

This year, I, too, have a real problem which I have not made known, generally. I have developed a serious eye ailment since May 1971 which has destroyed the center front vision in my right eye. The problem began after I purchased my car in April. The vision has been getting steadily worse. I do not want to tell Pop and he thinks I am "chicken" about driving my car. However, I too, felt that I should not drive after dark and so we left Wilbur's when the others were leaving about 4:00 p.m. We arrived at Kevin Road just after dusk to find no parking space closer than Rokeby Road. So we parked on Rokeby Road and walked down home. Later I went up the street about 7:30 p.m. and moved my car to Kevin Road when the visitors moved out.
I left Kevin Road about 11:15 a.m., on Sunday, and got back to Arlington without mishap, though my eyes did cause me some concern by the time I was midway trip. 

Called Dr. Golden, on Monday 27th for reference to the eye specialist he had mentioned. Then called the specialist, Dr. Joseph Dessoff's office for appointment which they could not make until they had a cancellation. They called me on Wednesday and made appointment for 10:15 a.m., Thursday. His diagnosis was approximately what Dr. Weiner's had been: vision 90% destroyed in right eye due to cyst having formed on back of eye and perforated the retina when it ruptured. He said the central vision for reading was totally gone and nothing could be done. Described the situation of the cyst as being similar to a blister on the skin that disappears after being punctured. The hole is directly in the center of the Macula. He thinks that there maybe no further deterioration of the sight unless something else develops. He gave me a prescription very similar to the present driving glasses for driving. He said I must wear my glasses at all times, indoor and out, no matter what, in order to relieve unnecessary strain on the left eye, which, with the prescription will give me perfect vision in the left eye.

I left the prescription at Nicholsen & Oldt's on Friday 31, 1971 (as though closing not only the year, but the part of my active life that cannot be recovered).

Perhaps because of my own mental stress, I felt that all the other members of my own immediate family were in a very quiet, reserved and pensive mood. Almost as though mentally letting go of each other."

I am sadder than I have ever been in my life. I cannot look back; I cannot look ahead! 

I now begin this day-to-day unplanned existence of monotony because I can only read a certain length of time and things begin to lose their former interest for me. I know that I must very soon make a decision as to when I will retire and I simply cannot lay plans for that time. ~ Mary Willis Garner

In Mary's personal profile written on 1 October 1976 for our genealogical records, she wrote,
"There were many ups and downs, while working, but nothing stayed the same for very long. This I found to be a perpetual challenge." 

"Believe me, nothing compares to this retirement life - It's really living!"

Mary eventually lost her ability to function independently. In 1996 Bill facilitated a move from her small apartment in Randallstown, Md to an assisted living facility in Pikesville, Md. Bill and Gwen visited her every week sometimes twice weekly, tending to her needs, never forgetting her dedication and thoughtfulness to them both during those war time years and the love she showered on their children. When Gwen passed away in 2000 Bill continued to visit Mary and manage her monies until he became ill and passed away in 2002, at which time her youngest brother Bernard Shelton Garner became her Power of Attorney. 
She remained a resident of SUNRISE until her passing as a result of Alzheimer's disease at the age of 93, on September 21, 2003 and was laid to rest in the family burial plot alongside her parents in Druid Hill Cemetery, Baltimore, Md.
 Mary never had any children and never married. She did have five nieces and nephews, as well as grand nieces and nephews to love, and she did with all her heart! Bernard S Garner, as her Executor, settled her estate.