My grandfather, Raymond Garlick, is a very interesting man. He has a sense of humor like no one else and he has experienced many things. My grandfather has never really been known to tell his war stories. My father, Russell Garlick, can barely remember times when he heard these stories. When I asked him about his experiences, although he seemed a little reluctant at first, he eventually shared his stories. I am extremely honored to now be sharing a small part of my grandfather's extraordinary life. He is pictured above beside me holding his medals, , wearing his uniform from the war.
Days in America (1941)
When he was drafted in February 1941, my grandfather had no regrets or fears because in his mind there was nothing to lose, "we had no jobs in the depression days." My grandfather was part of the 8th Coast Artillery. He was trained in Maine at Fort McKinley. One of his most vivid memories from Fort McKinley was looking for a little girl on Mount Chicora; she had gotten lost in the woods. His group was sent up onto the mountain to look for her, "one of the guys finally found her," said my grandfather. He and his group received a day off in return for their efforts as a search party. The battalion was then sent down to Fort Andrews, which is now Peddock Island in Boston Harbor. This is where all the men that were being sent overseas were gathered. My grandfather eventually boarded the Duchess of Bedford, a troop ship, with the company of 2,500 other men. He was headed to Iceland. He is pictured below in 1941 before beginning his journey.
The trip from Boston to Iceland was two weeks long. "The only thing we ate on the boat was candy bars made in Natick," commented my grandfather. Although my grandfather weathered the trip to Iceland well, others were not so fortunate, "By the time we reached the docks [in Boston], some of the men were already sick," he told me.
The reason for being in Iceland was to lay communication lines and to protect a fjord. A fjord is a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between steep slopes. The fjord that my grandfather was stationed on was Akureyri which is in Northern Iceland. The fjords were important during the war because they provided safety to American and allied vessels. "We knew there were German subs around when a British battle ship would come into the fjord." At the inlet of the fjord there were submerged gates that could be opened and closed quickly so that an allied ship could enter and then close so that submarines could be kept out.
My grandfather witnessed one of the biggest maritime disasters of the war. On August 22, 1942 the USS Ingraham was escorting a navy oil tanker, the SS Chemung. An internal explosion led to the ship being enflamed. The ship sunk taking the lives of 218 men, only one officer and ten men survived. My grandfather remembers this vividly, "I could feel the heat because it was so close."
Although the scenery in Iceland was beautiful, not everything was spectacular. The toilets were nothing but a seat on top of a metal bucket which would be emptied by native Icelanders. Bathing had to be done in 5 gallon washtubs that were in the open and heated by a fire. There was a cat in the bunks with the men on the base, one night a soldier complained that someone should let the cat outside. Another man replied that the cat was outside. What the men, and my grandfather, discovered was that rats were nibbling on his fingers.
There was leisure time to burn while in Iceland, "We used to toss a ball around, sometimes even at midnight." This was made possible by the unsetting midnight sun. The men even spent time weaving place mats and pot holders. The troops also received visits from the USO. My grandfather said, "I remember when White Christmas came out, and they [USO] came up and performed it for us."
The food in Iceland was enjoyable. "It was the only time I ate meat and fat and enjoyed it… when you're hungry you'll eat anything," recollected my grandfather. The beverage of choice for the soldiers was beer, "I didn't do any gambling or drinking… each guy got rationed out." Instead my grandfather took his five to seven cans of beer and sold them for as much as one hundred dollars each. He then sent the money home and started a bank account. There were often hikes during the days that could be as long as 16 miles, "We had to keep the old guys in shape… you know the thirty year olds."
With the exception of an occasional naval vessel seeking shelter there was never any worry about fighting. But there was an occasional reminder that they were at war, "We could hear the German planes above, but we could never see them."
At the beginning of 1944 my grandfather made the long two week journey back to America. Where he would stay at Camp Edward and Camp Stewart in Georgia, and wait for his next duty, Panama.
After a long trip described by my grandfather as "crowded and uncomfortable" with a quick stop in the "very beautiful, very clear" Caribbean, his Division arrived in Panama. The Panama Canal is the main connection of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It consists of many locks that are important because they ensure that the water levels are consistent. The 8th Coast was stationed at a lock called Mira Flores, one of twelve locks on the canal. The Canal was important during the War because it enabled the United States’ Navy to have the ability to mobilize quickly and efficiently. Construction of the canal was completed on August 15, 1914. It was a historic day. Teddy Roosevelt once said that "The canal was by far the most important action I took in foreign affairs during the time I was president." Many ships passed through the canal during my grandfathers stay in Panama. As he recalls, "the aircraft carriers used to scrape the walls of the canal."
My grandfather's division was responsible for establishing radio communication throughout the Panama Canal region. They were to keep radio contact at all times. My grandfather compared his responsibility to another communication job, "I felt like a telephone operator, always connecting people."
A serious problem during the construction of the canal and the time spent on the canal by my grandfather, was malaria. Before going to the canal he and his fellow soldiers were given shots to help prevent yellow fever, but there was nothing that could stop the malaria. Malaria was the only cause of death to American soldiers stationed in Panama, during his time there. Pictured below left, is my grandfather working at a communication desk in Panama. Below middle, is a map of Panama depicting the Panama Canal, drawn by myself.
Eventually in 1945, my grandfather was dismissed from Panama, he and the others took the long boat ride home. Even this trip was an experience. The ship traveled through a hurricane, in which "so much water entered the boat that it looked like a sub." They arrived in New Orleans, where my grandfather took the train back to Boston, where he was honorably discharged as a Technician 5th Grade, on the fifteenth of October 1945.
My grandfather had many experiences during these three years of his life. Some were memorable and others were not. He learned that all enjoyable food comes in the form of candy bars from Natick, he learned that a porcelain tub is much better than a wash basin, he learned that a monkey is a man's best friend, but he most importantly learned that there is no place like home. "I traveled 2,000 miles around the world and when I returned home I married a girl that lived half a mile away… it was the best movement I ever made."
Although he was never in combat, or never even saw a battle front, or other atrocities of war my grandfather is still against war. When I asked him what he though of war he replied, "War is crazy… shoot a guy one day and the next day go kiss him." I have learned a lot of things from my grandfather in my life, how to ride a horse, that I am afraid of snakes, and how to fix a toy train locomotive. Talking to him about the war taught me more. I learned that doing your job to the best of your ability is important to the larger picture. I learned to remember where you came from. Although he never fought on the beaches of Normandy, or liberated a concentration camp, I am awed and inspired by my grandfather's war efforts. I am incredibly honored to call, Raymond Garlick, my grandfather.
Garlick, Raymond S. Speech. House, Dedham . 11 Dec. 2003, 10 Jan. 2004.
LaFeber, Walter. The Panama Canal. New York: Oxford UP, 1978. 3-240.
Panama...in Pictures. Comp. Mary M. Rodgers. Minneapolis: Lerner
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The Panama Canal Museum. 2002. Ared Network. Dec. 2003