Private First Class Theodore O. Gardner (1943 – 1944)
3rd Army, European Theater of Operations, KIA
Remembering – Private First Class Theodore O. Gardner
Recalling last weeks article about Private First Class Calvin R. Gardner, we remember that when Theodore O. Gardner entered the Army on September 8, 1943, three of his brothers were already in the Army. Ward F. Gardner, Jr. inducted on February 26, 1942, John B. Gardner on July 8, 1942, and Calvin on March 4, 1943. At the time of their induction Ward, Jr. or Sunny, as he was called, and his wife Patricia Murphy Gardner were living in North Tonawanda, NY where he was employed by Drez Plastic and Chemical Company. John was living in Buffalo, NY and was employed by the Curtiss Wright Corporation. Calvin and Theodore were living at home prior to their induction. Their older sister, Nina, who married Ira Humble on October 3, 1942, was living in Hamilton, PA where she resides at this writing.
Thus in a period of nineteen months all four sons of Mr. & Mrs. Ward Gardner, Sr. became soldiers in the defense of freedom and our country, leaving Ward, Sr. and Elodie Burke Gardner alone on the farm in Gardner Hill.
Theodore at the time of his induction was not quite twenty two years old. By May of 1944 after basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas he was assigned to overseas duty as a member of Company K, 319th Infantry, 80th Infantry Division. Now all four Gardner Boys are in the European Theater of Operations. Pfc. Calvin, the youngest, has already seen action in Africa and Italy, has returned to the British Isles where his three other brothers are stationed and awaiting the invasion of France when they will get their first combat experience. Ironically Calvin and Theodore are now both assigned to General George S. Patton’s Third Army. Unfortunately information as to Sunny’s assigned organization is not available at this time. John was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, commonly known as the Screaming Eagles and the subject of a recent book and movie “The Band of Brothers.”
With D-Day approaching the scene is set for the four tragic events that will forever haunt the remaining members of the Gardner family.
This is how the scene unfolded: In the pre dawn hours of D-Day, Pfc. John B. Gardner leaped into the darkness in enemy territory inland on Utah Beach. He will survive the Normandy invasion and will return to fight again.
On August 3 (D-Day plus 58) Pfc. Calvin and Pvt. Theodore will land at Utah Beach as part of General Patton’s Third Army.
The stories of the Third Armies advancement through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, under the leadership of Patton are legendary. We already know from last week’s article that on September 25, in the area of the Moselle Forest, Pfc. Calvin pays the supreme sacrifice.
Next Cpl. Ward F. Gardner Jr. (Sunny) on the front lines near Strasbourg, France, on December 15, the eve of the famous Ardennes Offensive, more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge, is wounded in both shoulders by sniper fire, pinned down in an open field he will wait eight hours until darkness sets in to return to safety. During his escape he is again wounded by shrapnel from mortar fire. Wounded now in his shoulders and leg he is sent to an Army hospital in England.
Theodore by now has spent more than four long months with that historic 3rd Army advancement across France. And Theodore was there when General Patton pulled his entire Third Army out of line and in less than 48 hours altered course by ninety degrees and moved 15,000 vehicles 75 miles in some of the worst conditions seen in the war to reinforce the American forces in the Battle of the Bulge. Ironically Theodore, in Patton’s Third Army, was rushing to rescue Brother John, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, now back in action and surrounded by the Germans at Bastogne. John and Theodore never were able to talk about his strange occurrence because tragically on December 24, Christmas Eve, during the height of the Battle of the Bulge Private Theodore O. Gardner, like his kid brother, Calvin, paid the supreme sacrifice.
The Battle of the Bulge was considered complete on January 25, 1945, by then the 101st Airborne was famous for its refusal to surrender to the Germans on December 22, with the famous response of “Nuts” and was now known as the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne”. The actual liberation of the 101st Airborne was on December 26th, but unfortunately Pfc. John B. Gardner had been wounded on January 10, 1945.
All the while on the home front in Gardner Hill Ward, Sr. continued to work in the Proctor Mine, while Elodie remained at home constantly listening to the radio broadcasts of the progress of the war and plotting the advancement of the allies, four of which were her sons. Elodie by this time was not in the best of health and the war years with all its tragedies for her family only served to worsen her condition. Needless to say worry was a large part of her life during this period of time.
As we now know, worry turned to grief and mourning on October 16, 1944 when the first telegram arrived with word that her youngest son Calvin had been killed in action. The telegram with word that Sunny had been wounded in action was delivered sometime in late December to his wife Patricia Murphy Gardner residing in Benezette. Then on January 4, 1945 comes word by telegram the Private Theodore has been killed in action on December 24, in Luxembourg. It is believed to be the day he received word of Calvin’s death. And finally a notification on January 28 of son John being wounded on January 10, 1945.
In the short period of 108 days the world of Ward and Elodie Gardner was turned upside down and now all they can do is await the end of the war and the return of their two wounded sons. No more listening to the radio and plotting the progress of the war. The time is interrupted by more letters from the Army giving the locations of their deceased son’s temporary graves. A letter from Senator Joseph F. Guffey, letters from the Mayor of New York City, and the letter printed below from the Secretary of War.
The Secretary of War
May 29, 1946
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gardner:
I have recently learned that you are the parents of four sons whose services have been given to the armed forces. War F. Gardner, Jr., Theodore O. Gardner, John B. Gardner and Calvin R. Gardner are all on the rolls of the Army.
Two you your sons have sacrificed their lives in the service of their country. In extending my deep sympathy to you for this loss. I should like to express my gratitude for the service of these fine young men. I am acutely aware of the anxieties which war requires of parents, even when Providence returns their sons unharmed. In your case, the sacrifice is heavy to bear, since it has taken two of your sons from you.
In spite of your sorrow, I know that you must feel a great since of pride in the contribution to victory which your sons have made in the late ruthless war. You may be sure that the nation shares this feeling with all parents whose courageous boys drove forward with our forces to crush the military power of our enemies and to bring us peace at last.
Very Sincerely yours,
Robert R. Patton
Mr. and Mrs. Ward Gardner
Box 26, Route 2
One has to wonder what kind of recognition a family having suffered the tragedies of the Gardner Family would receive today? Secondly weren’t we awfully close to having a movie made entitled “Saving Pfc. John D. Gardner? You be the judge.
Finally the remains of Pfc. Calvin R. Gardner and Pvt. Theodore O. Gardner were returned to the United States in 1948 and interred at the Morningside Cemetery in DuBois. At the time of this writing they have been joined by brothers Sunny and John, and Mom and Dad. Alas! All together again.
“Lest We Forget…”