A NWIndiana Life in the Spotlight: Andy Garber

andygarber“You cannot imagine the stress that you are in at all. You never knew when it was going to end and the thing that really keeps you going is the fact that everybody is looking out after everybody else so that you don’t feel alone. It’s more than a brotherhood because your life is at stake at any second, but you are not alone and that is what keeps you going. That bond is huge,” recalled Andy Garber, a World War II veteran from Hobart.

Sharing the details of his time in service, Andy is a life to cherish and listen to his memories on this Memorial Day.

Andy’s war started at the young age of 18.

“During the war, once you become 18, you had to register for the draft, which I did. Prior to registering, I was involved in a program through the Army called the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP),” said Garber.

This meant that after basic training, the Army would assign soldiers to a University. After basic, Garber was sent to Wheaton College, in Chicago. He was inducted into the service on August of 1943, went through basic and attending an engineering program at Wheaton in March of 1944. Then, once there seemed to be a turn in the war, Garber was sent to the 96th Infantry division.

After more specified training, Garber was sent overseas to the Pacific. 30 days at sea ended at Manus Island, where Garber would reassemble before headed into battle.

Aboard a LST Ship #1013, Garber was part of the original landing forces in the small amphibious tanks.

“They would drop the door when we landed, so we had coverage. The only thing I remember of the landing, amid all of the shelling on the beach, and airplanes overhead was thinking, ‘Uncle Sam, I am paying you back for allowing my parents to come from Hungary as immigrants to settle in the United States.’ It’s crazy, but that’s the thought I had,” said Garber.

Garber was on the island of Leyte in the Philippians fighting from October 20th until around the middle of January. They were able to move relatively freely without too much opposition.

“The enemy was definitely there, but it wasn’t too difficult,” explained Garber.

The next operation, after getting cleaned up on the beach and getting replacements, was Okinawa. Garber was part of a fleet that was actually larger than what was at D-Day in Europe.

“Our division landed a couple hours after the initial landing in Okinawa. The third day in, we started meeting opposition, where we were being observed all the time and it was tough to advance because we were constantly under fire,” said Garber.

Garber and his men were getting shelled by artillery and had to remain in place for periods at a time because moving was too dangerous. Garber was relaying messages via walky talky back at base on their position. Air strikes helped Garber and his division take Tombstone Ridge, dropping bombs and napalm.

“While taking the ridge, I had to go to the bathroom so I broke one of the Cardinal rules of separating myself from my rifle. I got a little careless and lo and behold, while I was going to the bathroom, they counter-attacked,” Garber said with a giggle. “There’s all kind of firing going on, and here little ol’ Andy doesn’t have a rifle, just his pants down!”

His time was then spent trying to advance further, facing attacks and later, some much needed resting time before heading back to the front lines once again to face a lot of opposition.

“At that point, in the Battle of Okinawa, it was terrible. From that point on, opposition was strong. It was a series of small hills and higher hills, so you never knew where you were getting shot at. It was tough, I just can’t emphasize that enough,” said Garber.

After a tough battle at Dick Hill, and digging into a hill on the other side of the enemy, only Garber and a sergeant remained from the once 40 men. Eventually there was finally a break-through and the enemy retreated.

Soon thereafter, Garber’s war ended.

“Going through Leyte and Okinawa, I never got a scratch. At the end of a march, I could hardly walk. My big toe got infected with an ingrown toenail. I had a red stripe blood poisoning up my leg. So then, they took me back,” said Garber.

After the war, Garber went to Loyola, got married to his wife Joanne, and started an insurance agency. They managed that company for 40 years bringing in 2,500 clients.

“Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am at today,” said Garber, while looking back at his wife who was sitting nearby.

Interviewing Andy Garber was an honor. At 90 years old, Garber can remember the smallest of details about his time in service and paint a picture through his words that illustrates his memories.

While Memorial Day, for most, is about honoring men like Andy, for him, it means something a little different.

“I remember the guys that died. I am a Catholic and every time I go to church, I have a list of guys that died. I go through that list and remember the dead.”