Dr. H.T. Garner

DR. H.T. Garner, 92, of Monroe, holds a photo of the ground crew he worked with during World War II loading bombs on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress planes pictured in the photo. (Citizen photo by Zach Parker)

“I thought it would be a great adventure,” said H. T. (Henry Thomas) Garner, 92, speaking about receiving his draft notice in 1943, “but my mother was a nervous wreck.”

At the time, Garner was 18 and a student at Louisiana State Normal School (now Northwestern State University) in Natchitoches.

“That was an unusual thing, the war began while I was in college,” Garner said.

After receiving his notice, Garner’s parents drove him from their Caddo Parish home in Ida to the train depot in Vivian and reluctantly sent him off to war.

At Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama, Garner began 15 weeks in an infantry training program which included mastering the M1 rifle, two mortars, the .30 caliber carbine, and the .30 caliber machine gun.

“I can still remember that, dropping those bullets into the barrel and watching it explode and shoot out,” Garner said. “I also was trained in the use of the bayonet in an infiltration course. What this was meant to do was help us crawl on our back without being seen. Machine gun bullets were flying six inches over your head and there were explosives going off. That was one of the most difficult parts.”

After the training, Garner took written tests to apply as an aviation cadet. Three men including Garner passed this test and were sent to Miami Beach, Florida for training.

“We actually got to shower then, whereas before we were roughing it and had to put water and soap in our helmets and wash out of our helmets and shave from our helmets, too,” Garner said.

After weeks of study and practice, poor balance prevented him from achieving aviator status.

“I failed it,” said Garner, laughing. “After I failed the test, I had the choice of returning to my unit, but they needed ground crew to load armament against Japan.”

Later, he moved on to Pratt Army Airfield north of Pratt, Kansas to load B-29 armament.

“My unit gradually made it there,” Garner said. “That’s how we learned what we needed to do with the machine guns or loading bombs.”

There he spent six weeks loading .50-caliber machine guns with ammunition and securing bomb loads.

“This was all training,” Garner said.

En route to Guam, Garner and his fellow soldiers were transported to Hawaii in time for Christmas.

“I had my 19th birthday on the ship,” Garner said. “There was only one other person on the ship I knew. We shared a berth on the ship. We were crammed in the ship, as many as they could carry. The man, Levelle Haynes, was from a little town near Ruston. He slept on the bunk above me. He was a Louisiana Tech student. When we got to Guam, he went on to Tinian. We didn’t see each other until after the war.”

Anchored at Pearl Harbor, they did not leave their ship while their superior officers organized a flotilla to provide security before entering areas of enemy activity.

“We were waiting for other ships to come and join the convoy,” Garner said.

Employing evasive maneuvers, the ships made it to Guam without enduring an attack.

For the duration of the war, Garner labored to keep Boeing B-29 Superfortress planes armed and ready for battle.

“During the months of June, July and August, we were just dropping bomb after bomb after bomb,” Garner continued. “After the atomic bomb, enough was enough. And we lost so many troops at Okinawa.

“We also lost eight B-29s and it was a harrowing experience. That was a part of the war. It was a part that was etched in my memory, helping get the men off the planes. We had a lot of injuries.”

Remembering his experience injured and dead ground crew members or recalling troops’ stories of lost troops at Okinawa Island, Garner teared up and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Let’s go on.”

After a peace agreement was signed in September 1945, Garner moved to Tinian, part of the Mariana Islands, where he helped process the return of soldiers to the states.

“I didn’t have enough points at that time, which depended on how much time you had spent overseas,” Garner said.

Submarines in the Pacific were “everywhere,” Garner said, forcing the armada to travel 100 miles in one direction, before turning around and repeating the movement to avoid submarines.

It was February 1946 before he arrived home himself.

“Haynes’ parents met him in Shreveport, and my parents met me in Shreveport,” Garner said. “We got to meet each others’ parents. We visited each others’ college whenever our football teams played each other.”

Garner graduated with his teaching degree in 1948 and began his teaching career in Vivian, not far from his hometown.

He went on to get his master’s degree and a doctorate (1962) at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, became a principal, and became a professor at Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana-Monroe).

“Maybe after 12 years after graduation, around 1967, Haynes became Dr. Haynes and then became dean of special education at NLU,” Garner said. “That was after meeting him on the troop ship so many years before. We ended up finish our careers at the same college. That’s coincidental. Our lives criss-crossed for so long.”

Garner said he enjoyed taking summer teaching positions at colleges, including Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina as well as others across the country, and taking his wife and two daughters on these working vacations.

He spent the later years of his career as dean of graduate school at NLU and retired from that position in 1983 before working as dean of special education until 1993.

“I’m one of the last World War 2 draftees, and the ground crew members we lost will never be forgotten,” Garner said.

Zach Parker, news editor at The Ouachita Citizen, contributed to this report.

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