Little did I know when my Feb. 5 story about a Vandalia connection to the mysterious Bermuda Triangle was published in this newspaper that a copy of the article would make it to a family member, Don Garner.
You may recall from that article that Aviation Machinist Mate (AMM3) Thomas Garner was lost with 11 crew members aboard a PBM Mariner flying boat on July 10, 1945, while on a routine training mission. It was last sighted over New Providence Islands, going north, apparently headed into a rain squall.
His parents, Orval Eugene "Gene" and Alice Garner, received several telegrams, the first dated July 11, 1945, informing them that their son, Thomas Arthur Garner, was missing, and that a flight search was being conducted. Several weeks later, a news article in the local newspaper told that the Navy had informed the Garners that an exhaustive search had proven futile. Their son was 19 years old.
A telephone call from Betty Francis Schaub of Vandalia, who remembered the Garner family, started the ball rolling toward making contact with Don Garner.
Don was the source of a photograph of his brother, and of the first telegram from the Navy that appeared in the book, “Into the Bermuda Triangle – Pursuing the Truth Behind the World’s Greatest Mystery,” by Gian J. Quasar.
Betty asked how to contact Don Garner, but the best I could think of was through the author or publisher of the book.
A little later in the day, Betty telephoned to inform me she had been in touch with a Brownstown High School alumni committee member, and had Don Garner’s address. She was sending him the article from The Leader-Union about his brother.
Betty went on to tell me that, as a child, she lived five miles north of Bluff City. Their school was three-quarters of a mile north and one-quarter of a mile east of their home, with an oil pumping station another eighth of a mile beyond the school.
The children would watch for Mr. Garner, who operated the pumping station. When they sighted his vehicle on an adjacent road, they would start trudging off to school, knowing he would offer them a ride.
In the days since Betty contacted Don Garner, we have kept steady contact via e-mail. I can’t tell you how touched I was when Don Garner’s first e-mail thanked me for my remembrance of his brother.
Don told me about receiving the newspaper clipping from Betty Schaub, and that another friend, Glen Hazenfield of Alabama, had also contacted him about the article.
He went on to say in late 2001, while surfing the Web for Bermuda Triangle stories, he came across Gian Quasar’s Web site cataloguing various disappearances of ships and aircraft, which did not include Tom’s PBM. Don contacted the author, saying basically, "I know of a missing Navy PBM that everyone has forgotten. I have details, plus a name list of the crew and next of kin."
Although he did not expect a reply, Gian Quasar was in contact with him "like a flash." Don shared family pictures, telegrams and military letters with Quasar and, at the author’s request, wrote a brief biography of his brother, which was used in the book.
The loss of 19-year-old Tom Garner in 1945 was not the first for this family, nor would it be the last.
Don wrote, "My sister, Helen, was diagnosed as having colon cancer in early 1943, and attended her high school graduation in a wheelchair. She died the following September at the age of 19.
"In March 1943, we moved from Vandalia to a few acres facing U.S. Route 40, just inside Otego Township, which gave us a Rural Route 2, Brownstown, address. In 1947, Charley graduated from Brownstown Community High School. He, Bob Scott and a couple of others went to Peoria for jobs at Caterpillar.
"There, Charley joined the Illinois National Guard, which was activated when the hostilities broke out in Korea. He accepted a commission as a 2nd Lt., was shipped to Korea and killed in action Feb. 26, 1953, nine days after his 25th birthday."
Helen and Charley Garner are buried in Dodge Grove Cemetery in Mattoon, and Tom has a stone there as well.
Lt. Col. Bill Garner, the eldest son, spent 20-plus years in the Air Force and was retired from the service for medical disability. Bill had been a flight instructor for C-130s before a bout with colon cancer. He died in 1978, and is buried in the national cemetery, Nashville, Tenn.
Bob Garner was an aviation radio operator during World War II, aboard PBM Mariners, like his brother Tom. At the age of 86, Bob now lives in New Orleans, La.
Don is the youngest of the family, and graduated from Brownstown High School in 1949. He spent four "uneventful years" during the Korean War in the Navy, and was overseas in 1953 when brother, Charley, was killed.
In 1950, his father’s job relocated him to Heyworth, and Gene and Alice lived here after their retirement.
Once again, I thank my neighbor, Ellen Doyle, for drawing my attention to Gian Quasar’s book. And a big thank-you to The Leader-Union for bringing Betty, Don and me together through the remembrance of Tom Garner.