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, December 31, 2015

Letter to Pvt. Souil W. Garner U.S. Army Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana December 19, 1943

This letter is from Phoebe Emma Garner (Souil, Bill and Mary's mother). As of the date of this letter, she had three of five children in the armed services, Mary in Minneapolis, Souil in Indiana and Bill in DeRidder, Louisiana, preparing to depart for Europe.
Mrs. S. Wade Garner
6000 York Road
 Baltimore -12 Md. 
Dec. 17 - 43
My Dear Souil,

Your letter received yesterday morning + I surely did enjoy reading it and so did Dad when he came home last night. I surely felt relieved to know that Harriet had gotten a comfortable room. See, what a lucky bunch we are! But that's not luck either, simply the one who notes the sparrow's fall, supplying our daily needs; call it what will. I don't think I would like at all, to feel that you children were in a strange City, among strangers and not Also know that He who made the universe has you under His care.Well, today is the big day you have looked forward to; so I, like yourself am wondering where + what, for you. I had a phone call from Wilbur on Tuesday night, (I think it was Tuesday) He said he had been trying to get one through to you, all the evening, he was then in DeRidder, + said there was no change in his plans. He had said before in his letters he expected to leave on the 15th of December, so I suppose he didn't want to say so, but meant that as good bye, for the present. Well, the only thing we do is trust, where we can't see, + we surely can't see far.
We are having a very cold spell of weather; last Monday it began + yesterday it was down to seven degrees. I expect it is just as cold this morning. Was nice clear weather though + the weather bureau says clear today. Baltimore is certainly hard hit by the Grippe Epidemic. There is talk of closing the schools, on account of it. I am glad you will be able to use the barracks for sleeping during that extra period. I don't imagine it would be very comfortable sleeping outdoors in such cold weather, unless absolutely necessary, it does not seem practical or sensible to me, but guess Uncle Sam might think otherwise. 
Dad + I had a good laugh about the long underwear, but I'll bet you are thankful to have it now. I wonder how Mary is managing to keep warm. I think about her each morning when we get up, how cold she used to be. I'll bet she, like ourselves + thousands more, will be too happy for words, when Peace finally comes. 
I am much relieved, + not at all surprised to know Harriet has landed herself work to keep her busy: you can't keep a jump ahead of that girl, + I imagine, she'll keep two jumps ahead of you and that is good for you. Well I hope she doesn't over do her strength, for she is a real bunch or energy, + would never be happy idle. 
Colin Bell will be home next Sunday + will leave on the 26th of Dec. to go back to college at Macon, Georgia, so I imagine he would get your note here before he leaves, I do not have his school address, but if you want it I will get it from his mother, for his birthday is Jan 1st and we have always sent him cards, so I will need it anyway. 
We are fairly well, my cold is still trying to hang on, but I feel pretty good except coughing + hoarseness + time will take care of that, I think. Jane has been home with a cold since Tuesday, is better now. Hope you get the box all right, wish it could have been more, but I couldn't get out shopping much on account of the cold, so now, Bye, Bye, + lots of love to you both, we certainly do think of you often.
Yours Lovingly Mother 

Letter to Pvt. Souil W. Garner U.S. Army November 6, 1943 Baltimore Maryland

This letter is from Phoebe Emma Garner (Souil and Bill's Mother)  to Souil after he was drafted into the Army and sent to finance school at Fort Benjamin Harrison,  Indiana..........
Mrs. S. W. Garner
6000 York Rd.
Baltimore Md - 

Nov. 6-43

My Dear Souil,

I received your letter on Wednesday, was surely glad to get it. Harriet called the night before, + told us of her change in plans; she sure did feel badly about it. We certainly do sympathize,  I told her to come anyway, + stay a couple weeks, but she didn't think that would be practicial, + I suppose she knows best. Well, Dear Boy, we surely will be thinking of you this weekend especially. I don't often stop my work on Saturday morning to write a letter, but I can't get you out of my mind this morning, for even a few minutes, so thought I would stop + write to you. I had a letter from Wilbur this morning telling  me, his unit is slated to be the next one out of there for overseas, when the maneuvers are over. It seems terrible for this war to drag on + on as it is. There must surely be some good reason the Good Lord has for allowing it, + who am I to question? I know you must be digging into that course you are taking. I hope it will be of use to you when things are settled once more, + this night mare is over. Souil Mr. C says just about the same as that Officer told you; he thinks you have gotten a wonderful break, so lets hope any way. There does not seem to be much left in this life anyway-but hope,  so lets hold on tight to our hopes + faith which is only a confirmation of our hope. Hope says I expect so + so, + faith says, I know in the Lords own good time he will bring some special thing to pass, because he has promised that, "No good thing will be withheld from those that love him." So lets not lose heart. Well, here's the Old Lady preaching again. Souil Mr. & Mrs. C are very much worried about Jim. Patty's sister has a boy friend, who is a sailor; his boat docked over a week ago in Boston + he went home, to Plattsburg, on furlough. He was surprised on arrival, that Jim was not home, for he says Jim's boat, The Spencer, was in Boston dry docks laid up for repairs. He told Patty + she has waited almost a week , after that for some word, and then wrote to Christman's. He had written Patty a few weeks ago and told her he had lost his hearing entirely from concussion of big guns, (he is in charge of a gun crew.) The Dr's think one ear drum is burst, but that the other will respond to treatment. Since that she has not heard a word. Mr. C thinks it must be a mistake, + that the boat couldn't be in, but Mrs. C thinks it is in, + Jim is hurt more seriously than his letter said + he is in a hospital + won't let them know. Well they are really worried. So I have spent a lot of time trying to keep her talking, so she won't have time to sit and think much this week.  See, I always have an alibi, when I don't write often, when the reason really is I get lazy, once in a while. Now Souil I guess I shall have to bring this to an end. We are both well, + getting along all right. I laughed at your reference to Dad's pay,  (the mistakes) for he came home the last pay day, with nearly six dollars more than he should have had + they don't seem to be able to figure it out. Well, if they want it that way, I hope it won't be six less. Now Lots of love from us both, to the very best boy in the world, none excepted.
Yours Lovingly

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Letter to Mrs. Souil W. Garner June 14, 1943 Camp Polk Louisiana

This is the last letter in our files that was sent to Harriet and Souil before Bill's beloved Betty passed away in Baltimore. She had returned to Baltimore to live when Bill was transferred to Camp Polk.
Betty Sutton Garner, Bill's wife passed away at the age of 21, on June 25, 1943, when she went into a diabetic shock from an undiagnosed diabetic condition.  She had been married to Bill just shy of two years. She was laid to rest in Druid Hill Cemetery, (Groveland section) Baltimore, Md. Bill was notified of her passing by the Army and he spent 48 hours traveling on trains, trying to get back to Baltimore for her burial, which was handled by her parents. Having not slept in the past 48 hours, he arrived in Baltimore the day of her burial filled with sadness. (Not the jovial upbeat Bill who wrote the letter below just two weeks before her passing.)
 Cpl. W.C. Garner
G-1 Section APO 353
Camp Polk, La.

12 June 1943
Dear Souil & Harriet,

Hello you hard workers. What's wrong? Can't you even drop me a line? How is Harriet's job coming? Tell me is she losing any weight on that job or is IT spreading. Lets hope it isn't spreading. Don't be offended my little chubby-wub. As long as we can still beat the pants off of Betty and her in pinochle everything is OK.

Well I guess you are anxious to know about my job. There really isn't much to it at present. I am working for a Colonel L. LeR. Martin who is in charge of G-1 section. I am supposed to be classified as a stenographer. I take dictation from the Colonel and also a Captain in this section. I know nothing about what rating I'll end up with or when I'll get it but here's hoping it isn't far off. As for maneuvers, I am supposed to go out for about 15 days and then return to the office for awhile.  As for the cadre; I don't know whether I'll go out on cadre or not. That just about sums up the military situation at home.

It looks like our boys will soon be giving them hell. The sooner they start blasting away at them, the sooner this thing will be over. I hope it won't be long either.

It has really been hot down here lately. I guess it is beginning to get hot at home too now. I would rather be hot at home than to be hot in Louisiana.

I hear Betty spent a very enjoyable evening with you and Harriet about a week ago. You didn't tell her any good jokes that I should know did you? I'm all ears if you have any.

Well be good and don't take and wooden nickels. I hope to hear from you all soon.
Luck to both of you

Wilbur C. Garner, 33377578,
Corporal, Hqs, III Armd Corps

Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Souil W. Garner April 15, 1943 Louisville, Kentucky

Mrs. W. C. Garner 
1129 S. Third St. 
Louisville, Ky.
April 15, 1943

Dear Harriet and Souil,
Thought I'd better answer your nice letter because I don't know when Bill will get a chance to write. He is finished half of his classes with an average of 90. He is also looking very well. Very much surprised to hear that Harriet has gone back to work. At least she has swell working hours. Bill and I like the idea of Bernard and Jane being engaged, but are willing to bet that they don't wait any year before they get married. We have the funniest weather down here we have had hot weather cold weather, sleet, snow, and plenty of rain. We are having a grand time sight seeing and taking pictures. The races have started. I think the Derby is to be run May 10th. There is a circus in town an several beautiful parks. Louisville is the best place I have been in yet, but of course there is no place like home!!! This is Bill's afternoon off so he is taking a snooze. Last Sunday we walked 11/2 miles out to the University of Louisville. The grounds and buildings are beautiful. All the trees and shrubs were in bloom. I get about three hours walking in each day. We can use the streetcars but it's nicer walking and healthier. There are quite a few large movies in town. The last picture we saw was "Keeper of The Flame" which we enjoyed very much. Louisville reminds me of New York on a very small scale.
It is hard to realize that this Sunday is Palm Sunday. The winter has gone so fast. Before we know it, summer will be here.
I guess you have read or heard about the letters we sent to York Road so I wont repeat all that stuff. It was swell hearing from you. There doesn't seem to be any news so I'll close for now. Bill and I both send our love.
As ever,

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Souil Garner March 29, 1943 Louisville, Kentucky

Mrs. W. C. Garner
1449 S. Third St. 
Louisville, Ky.
March 29, 1943

Dear Harriet and Souil,

Bill asked me to drop you a line to let you know he hasn't forgotten you. He seems to be getting along swell at school, at least he is ahead of the rest of the fellows in his class. I arrived here last Thursday. The train was only 20 minutes late getting in. This part of the country certainly has been flooded. The waters were still up even with the railroad tracks. It rained the day after I got here but has been sunny and nice ever since. Yesterday Bill and I walked for about 3 hours. The houses here are very big and beautiful. My room is on the 3rd floor. What a climb. We are at least 8 blocks from the center of the city. We usually walk in to dinner and take a street car back, incidentally, the fare is 2 persons for 15 cents. The blocks are very long. It takes us a good half an hour to walk to town. The only bad feature about this set-up is that it is so far from Fort Knox. I would like to find something closer. I understand there is a town closer to camp called "Elizabeth Town." I want to see if we couldn't get something there. You have to be careful about these small towns though and be sure they have inside "johnny's." Louisville is about 30 miles from camp. Has Souil heard any more from the draft board? Bill is very anxious to know all about it. We heard that he has had his blood test. Is that correct? Bill expects to graduate May 16 - and has to go back to Camp Polk the next day. Don't ask me what I am going to do because I really don't know. It would be swell to hear from you. Please write soon. Better send all mail to Bill.

Love Betty

Monday, December 28, 2015

Letter to Mr. Souil Garner February 18, 1943 DeRidder, Louisiana

Wednesday,  February 17

Dear Souil,

Gee, thanks a million for the $40.00. It was so nice of you to think of us. The money certainly will come in handy. We had to wire home and borrow some money because we found ourselves running short. Bill misses a pay because he will be home on his furlough. We expect to arrive home Wednesday evening or early Thursday morning. I have decided to come back with Bill. Hope we can arrange to see you while we're home. As far as we know we will be out York Road on Friday evening, Sunday afternoon and evening and maybe Monday for lunch. We will have to leave to come back the following Tuesday evening or early Wednesday morning. Seems like we will spend most of our time traveling but it is still worth it. You have no idea how good it will be to get home again. I am glad Mary finally got into the "Waves." I believe she was really anxious to go.
She has more courage than I would have. My brother Bill is in New Guinea now and has just received his Christmas package and cards. He is going to send a complete native outfit home. We are both so excited and anxious about coming home, thats all we even talk about anymore. I have been busy getting our clothes cleaned and laundered all week. We have just about every minute planned. You'll never know how much we appreciate the money, but you shouldn't have done it. You know you don't realize anyone is thinking about you until something like this happens. It will be so good to see you again. let me say thank you again, you are really swell to think of us.
Lots of love,

Letter to Mr. and Mrs. S. W. Garner February 2, 1943 DeRidder, Louisiana

Tuesday, Feb. 2

Dear Harriet + Souil,
I am so glad to hear that you are out and around again. We have found a swell place to live just around the corner from where Bill gets the bus for camp. This is a nice clean place~ all modern furniture and Mr. and Mrs. Terry are lovely people. I fix my own breakfast and lunch here which saves us quite a bit of money. I can use her icebox etc. She furnishes us with plenty of fresh linens and towels. Today Bill and I have been married 1 1/2 years and it is my 21st birthday so I guess we'll celebrate by going up the drug store and get a couple of sundae's. The weather has been beautiful lately. Bill thinks maybe he can get a furlough sometime in March. Gosh, it will be swell to get home for a few days. I almost forgot to mention that I do my own washing and ironing too. Mrs. Terry teaches school and I have the whole place to myself all day. We worked out a budget. I hope we can stick to it. The boys at camp send me their fruit Saturday. Bill walked in with 8 apples and 8 oranges. Last night he brought me more. All the fellows and officers seem to like Bill very much. I think right much of him myself. Well, Harriet, take care of yourself and try to keep Souil from working so hard. It was good to hear from you. Hope to hear again soon and maybe see you soon.

                                                                 Lots of love,

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Souil Garner January 6, 1943 Gatesville, Texas

(Note: This letter contains racial slurs and bias and are not my beliefs. I have typed the letters exactly as they are written for historical purposes only. They are not meant to hurt any one, but to share a time in history as it happened to and with the people who wrote the letters.)

January 5, 1943

Dear Harriet and Souil,

I certainly had a hair raising trip down here but it was worth it a million times. It's so good to be with Bill again. So far he has gotten out every night and leaves about 5:45am for camp. Three of the boys have the mumps so of course everyone is supposed to be confined to the camp. But as usual Bill has managed to get out. He seems to be getting along swell. He has his corporal's rating now. We won't move to Louisiana now for at least 2 or 3 more weeks on account of the mumps. I spend most of my time at the U.S.O. They have some activity planned for the wives each day and then something else for the evening such as movies, dances, song session, etc. We went to Waco Sunday and went to the movies "The Palm Beach Story." There is nothing much to do around here except eat and sleep. I have noticed quite a few Mexicans around, they are almost as dark as our negro's and rather ugly. My room is very plain but very comfortable. I was lucky to get a room at all. All the rest of the girls that came down for Christmas have gone home again. We saw them off Sunday while we were in Waco. I felt sorry for the boys watching the train pull out with lipstick smeared all over their faces.
I was glad I wasn't leaving. I forgot to tell you, Bill has poison oak all over his body. For the last three nights I have been up about every cpouple hours with him. It seems to be much better now. Up until today , the weather seems to go from one extreme to the other. Either it's too warm of freezing cold. We have tried several times to call Baltimore but can't get through. When we do move to Louisiana I have a ride over with the first sergeants wife and 2 other people. That's much nicer than going by train or bus. We went to the New Years Eve dance at the U.S.O. but all soldiers had to be off the streets by 11:30pm.Well there isn't much news so I'll close this letter.
Hope you are well and hope to hear from you soon.


Letters to Mr. & Mrs. Souil.W. Garner November 8, 1942

After more than a year of finishing the epistolary story "Dear Mary: Letters From the War" a few more letters from WWII, 14 to be exact, have surfaced that were in my sisters possession. She gave them to me some time ago to add into this blog but I just have not had the time to sit down and focus on the project until now.  These letters were addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Souil W. Garner, Bill's (who was also known as Will) brother, Souil and his wife Harriet. Unfortunately they will not fall chronologically, instead will be added over the next week or so. This first letter, being entered today, December 27, 2015; post the epilogue entry.
The letters to Souil and Harriet may not make too much sense as they are out of the story line, so if you care to fit them into the story line, see the Blog Archive at the bottom of the blog page to chronologically insert them into the story line.
So, to refresh memory Pvt. Wilbur C. Garner (Bill or Will) was our dad who had married Betty shortly before he was drafted into service for WWII.
These letters were written by himself and a few from his then wife Betty Garner to Souil and Harriet and reflect his time in service from Nov 8, 1942 til May 1, 1944.

This first letter to Mr & Mrs. S. W. Garner was dated November 8, 1942, Waco, Texas from then Pvt. Wilbur C. Garner 802nd Tank Destroyer Btn. at the young age of 22.

Sunday November 8, 1942

Dear Souil + Harriet,
Well I got out again this week but there is not much chance next week. It is really hot down here today. Well Old Boy I never thought I see the time when I'd be glad to get back into those tents until Friday night. We had to pack up everything we own and be ready to move out in the shortest possible time. We pulled out about 7:30 p.m. No one but the officers in charge knew where we were going. About 10:00p.m. we pulled into a field. We thought we were stuck. It was just lucky that we went back to camp. We got back about 1:30 AM only to get up at 6:00AM. I don't think there were many of us that got to bed before 2:30AM as we were all assigned to different tents. Those tents looked good though. I called Betty today. It only took me about 30 minutes to make all connections which was pretty good. How is everything back home? Please don't feel badly if you don't get a reply to your letters promptly because I really don't get much time during the week. I will write you when I can though. Well I'll be seeing you.
                                                                                                                                        Love Will