Donn Garwood, 2010 Donn and Lorraine Garwood, c. 1951 I'm Gerry Waterson, and today we are interviewing

Donn Garwood, who happens to be my brother-in-law. The date is December 28, 2010. This is part of the oral history project of Historic Saranac Lake and we are located here at Saranac Village at Will Rogers in Saranac Lake.

GW: First of all Donn, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me. Let’s begin by asking you some basic questions. What is your full name?
DG: Donn Grant Gray Garwood.
GW: And you were born in?
DG: Saranac Lake, New York
GW: On what date?
DG: December 21, 1929
GW: Okay, what I want to do is first of all get some basic factual questions out of the way. If you could tell me a little bit about your early childhood, and I want to emphasize too I’m trying not to ask you yes and no type questions, I hope you can expound on things a little bit more, but the first things are going to be just basic questions. What were your parents' names?
DG: My father’s name was Everett Grant Garwood. My mother’s name was Alberta Grace Kerr.
GW: Did you have any siblings?
DG: No, I was an only child.
GW: Okay, first thing I’d like to ask you is what were your growing up memories, you know, what are the things you kind of remember about Saranac Lake and your own life and your own family when you were growing up.
DG: Oh, dear. My memory is very vague.
GW: Well, I mean like school, what did you do
DG: I attended the Broadway Elementary School from first to sixth grade. At that time we lived on Baker Street, just before my father died and then of course I went to the high school from there, the high school, which is now the middle school.
GW: And that was on Petrova.
DG: On Petrova Avenue, yeah.
GW: I understand. Do you remember your living addresses when you were growing up?
DG: Oh, we lived all over the town. We lived on Baker Street when my father died, Margaret Street, where else did we live, Dover (?) Avenue, Leach (?) Street where I stayed with my aunt and uncle, that’s about it, I guess.
GW: I seem to remember something about your father. Wasn’t he a policeman, a police officer?
DG: He was on the police force in Saranac Lake when he died.
GW: Did he die as a result of his service?
DG: No, he just died, complications from strep throat.
GW: Okay. Well, you know I’d like to go on from that to, and you should have greater recollection of this, essentially your teenage years. You already said you went to the old Saranac Lake High School. What general courses did you study? I don’t know if they broke it down into various programs.
DG: I took industrial arts courses, which was, you know, included shops, mathematics and English and the rest of it, but woodworking shop was what I enjoyed.
GW: So that was the basis of the rest of your career later on, I think.
DG: I turned out that way. I didn’t plan it that way, but yes.
GW: Were you in any clubs or athletics, or societies?
DG: I was in the High Y, I only played one sport when I was in high school and that was baseball, I earned my letter in baseball, 4 years.
GW: My hand still remembers your pitching because I used to catch for you. Did you hold any offices or were you captain of the team or anything like that?
DG: No. I was on the fire squad too at the high school which was started by the woodworking teacher, Carl Smith.
GW: Okay, so that led into another phase of your career.
DG: Oh yeah, yeah.
GW: Okay, now this is kind of making sense. Do you remember any of your high school girlfriends?
DG: Oh, yes.
GW: Okay, well let’s expound on that.
DG: I think I’ll take the fifth on that.
GW: You’re not going to tell us?
DG: Well, my first girlfriend was Caree Yetz, but I liked her when I was in grade school. She lived right next door to the fire house.
GW: Oh, okay. Now did you go to any proms, like with her or somebody else.
DG: I went to one or two, yeah.
GW: Do you remember much about them?
DG: I was a very poor dancer so I really didn’t go to too many dances.
GW: You were a lover, not a dancer.
DG: That’s it. I didn’t want to spend my energies in the wrong direction.
GW: I understand. Now, every teenager and people in high school, had an after school hangout. Was there a place you used to go to, like Bernie Wilson's.
DG: Bernie Wilson, oh yeah. I didn’t hang around much because I worked after school.
GW: That’s my next question. What after school jobs did you have?
DG: I worked for my uncle’s, Bill and Earl Kerr.
GW: Doing?
DG: Well, they owned a gas station on Broadway and later in the 40s they started recapping tires, so through my high school years I worked mostly down at the recapping plant which was from 1941 to '44 or '45.
GW: Okay, and then anything after that?
DG: I, after school, I started working at Wilson's Clothing Company.
GW: Okay, and did you work there for a long time?
DG: Oh, I was there for a couple of years, I think, and had an offer from Cheeseman’s Sport Shop which was just up the hill from Wilsons. I was there until I went in the service as a matter of fact.
GW: Okay, we’ll get to that a little bit later. This is a very open-ended question, but, I mean I don’t know if you recollect it, but in high school did you have certain dreams of the future, did you think, well, I would like to do this or that or I’ve got to get out of this crazy town?
DG: Well, I wanted to go in the Air Force or the Air Corps. At that time it was called the Air Corps, the Army Air Corps, but when I went down for my physical I found out that I had a heart murmur so I couldn’t pass the physical so I came back home and went to work.
GW: Okay, then I’m going to get into the next part of what we want to talk about and that is going into the military. The Korean War was going on I think at that particular time. Did you want to go in or were you drafted?
DG: Well, I was drafted, but I want to go so I went in the service January 1951 and I got out in October of 1952.
GW: Now you obviously went to basic training. Where did you go?
DG: Camp Polk, Louisiana.
GW: That must have been a change from Saranac Lake going down to there.
DG: Well, not really. Just before we got down there they’d had a wicked ice storm so it was as cold down there as it was in Saranac Lake.
GW: Oh, that’s amazing. So you felt at home?
DG: Oh, yeah, but not for very long.
GW: Did you ever go to any other camps or bases?
DG: Just, well I started out at Camp Devins, that where I was inducted in the Army and then we went by train to Camp Polk and I was in Fort Ord in California before I shipped overseas.
GW: Okay, so you did go overseas. Just for the record, what division were you in?
DG: 45th Division, the Oklahoma National Guard Division.
GW: Okay, and that was, what was its nickname? They always had nicknames.
DG: Thunderbirds.
GW: I got you. And what division were you in, or what regiment or batallion?
DG: It was 180th Infantry Regiment, heavy tank company.
GW: Which was part of that infantry?
DG: Yes
GW: Okay, very good. And the Thunderbird is a famous division, I know it was started in World War I.
DG: Yes, and went through World War II
GW: Okay, so here you were this young man, how old were you?
DG: When I went in the service?
GW: Yeah.
DG: Well, let’s see. I went in in 51, so that would be, I was 22.
GW: Okay, so you were this young thing, just out of little old Saranac Lake heading over to some foreign country and I assume you went over by some ship.
DG: Yes, we did
GW: How was that passage?
DG: It was rough, took the northern route up along the Alaskan seaway and it was wicked, it was, we were in a ship that was made to hold 1,500 men, we had 3,000 men on it, so it was, you know, get in the chow line in the morning and you finished your breakfast, you’d head right back in the chow line for lunch and right after that you head back again.
GW: So you were lucky you could, did you hold your lunch?
DG: Oh, yes. I was one of the lucky ones.
GW: I’m sure a lot of the guys probably smelled all over that ship.
DG: Yeah, you had to be careful where you stood on the rail believe me.
GW: Now, where did you go first, Korea or Japan?
DG: I went to Japan first and we were stationed in a little village, outside a little village called Shatosi.
GW: And I assume they put you up at the Ritz Carlton there?
DG: Oh, yes. Canvas tents.
GW: Canvas tents, and what was the temperature like?
DG: It was very much like Saranac Lake.
GW: A canvas tent is going to be cold.
DG: Well, yeah.
GW: Did they have heaters in the tents and stuff?
DG: Well, we were in the tents during the warmer part of the year after we got there and just before we left for Korea they moved us in quonset huts, nice metal tents or metal buildings and we weren’t in those I don’t think two weeks before we shipped out to Korea so we really didn’t get a chance to get used to all the comforts of home.
GW: Now you were in a tank. Where did you get your training on doing a tank?
DG: I got that in Japan. I went through basic training in Camp Polk and went through infantry training and then when I got to Japan I was assigned to the heavy tank company and I took tank training.
GW: What was your initial position? The crews are how large and the tanks you?
DG: Well, that one there was 5 men.
GW: And what was your position?
DG: What they called the bow gunner. I operated a 30 caliber machine gun in the right hand side of the tank next to the driver and we had a tank commander and a loader, who loaded the big gun, and the gunner.
GW: And what kind of tank were you in?
DG: Shermans. World War II models
GW: World War II variety. I know they upgraded the Shermans quite a bit.
DG: Yeah.
GW: So where did you land in Korea? What particular city, town?
DG: In Korea, in Inchon.
GW: At Inchon? When you first arrived?
DG: Yeah
GW: Okay. And then I assume they rushed you to the front immediately.
DG: Yeah, we weren’t very far.
GW: Now, you know, my memory of the Korean War was that the North Koreans pushed the troops all the way down to the Pusan perimeter. Was this after they got back up.
DG: Yeah, this happened after, or before I got there because I didn’t get into Korea until October of 1951.
GW: Now where were you primarily stationed? And where is that in relation, let’s say to Seoul?
DG: Well, we were well north of Seoul.
GW: So you were in some sort of battle front?
DG: Yes, we were on the line.
GW: Now did you have actual close combat experience or was, being a tank, were you just used as artillery pieces?
DG: Well, pretty much we were used as artillery, but we also did patrols.
GW: Did you, were there any tank to tank encounters?
DG: We did have some, yup.
GW: Did your tank knock any out?
DG: No we did come across some Russian made tanks that the Koreans were using, the North Koreans.
GW: And so you had battles with them?
DG: Yeah
GW: Do you remember the area you had a battle? Just for the historical record, what towns?
DG: I don’t, I’d have to look at a map to really pinpoint it.
GW: I think it was between John Tron and Chur Wan.
DG: Yeah, I think I probably had that in my memories there somewhere didn’t I? From my written memories?
GW: That’s true, and I did read about it thanks to your daughter. Your were up there in the winter time?
DG: Oh, yes.
GW: So it must have been terrible.
DG: It was cold, very cold.
GW: Did you sleep in the tanks?
DG: No, we slept, we had built trenches, you know, underground with log covers over them.
GW: So you made these yourselves?
DG: Yeah.
GW: Okay, so sleeping in the tank was probably cold?
DG: Yes, it was.
GW: Could be, plus you were vulnerable if any bazookas and anything else, or other tanks.
DG: We stood watch in the tanks at night, you know.
GW: Okay, did you have any experience, like you manned the 50 caliber and 30 caliber guns, did you actually shoot at people with those things?
DG: Well we thought we were shooting at people.
GW: Okay, so things would happen and then you’d shoot away?
DG: Yeah, yeah, right.
GW: Okay, and did you have, like canteens, somebody made your meals or you just eat your own?
DG: They were prepared in a rear area and they were brought up to us by Korean porters.
GW: Okay, and how long were at the front line before you got some sort of break where you could go back and rest.
DG: Oh, we were probably up there for a month at a time and went back for maybe a week and then took another position.
GW: Would you leave your tanks there and another crew would come in and man them, or did you take your tanks back too?
DG: No, we left our tanks right there.
GW: Okay, so other people...
DG: Others would come in
GW: Okay, then you came back for them?
DG: Yeah.
GW: And I assume that your hygiene suffered quite a bit when you were there?
DG: Oh, yes, yes. If you got a shower once a month you were lucky.
GW: Oh, okay. Now how did they determine when you got a break? I mean, was it the number of days you served?
DG: It was pretty much just by that, yeah.
GW: Okay, now were you always in that position or did you rise up in the ranks in the tank itself?
DG: Oh, yeah. I ended up being a platoon sergeant.
GW: Okay and what was that in the tank? Was that like the, is the driver the highest level in a tank?
DG: No, tank commander
GW: Oh, there’s a tank commander?
DG: Tank commander, yeah.
GW: Okay, and you rose up to that maybe?
DG: That, yeah, and above. Of course, at the end of my tour there, I was a platoon sergeant, that was, you know, you were in charge of five tanks.
GW: Oh, okay, so you were commander of a bunch of tanks at that point? Did you ever earn leave so you could actually head back to the states for a while?
DG: I never earned any. Didn’t want one because I wanted to get my time done and go home.
GW: So how long were you in Korea?
DG: Well, I had to earn, it was on the point system. Depending on how many points I had to have.
GW: I mean roughly how long were you there, like a year, year and a half, two years?
DG: I went in in October and I came home in September of the following year, so I was there just, I was on the line for 10 months.
GW: Okay, did you have any girlfriends when you went into the Army?
DG: Oh, yes.
GW: Now who would that be?
DG: Lorraine.
GW: That would be your future wife.
DG: My wife, yes.
GW: Your future wife at that point. Which for the record was my sister. Her name was Lorraine Waterson at the time. Now how did you meet Lorraine?
DG: Pretty much by chance. I used to work at Wilson Clothing Company and she worked at the telephone company and she walked by the store. I kind of took a shine to her.
GW: So you conveniently probably were waiting outside cleaning the window or something, knowing she’d be coming by I take it?
DG: That’s true. I finally worked up enough courage to ask her out.
GW: I see. I got you. So it was pretty much love at first sight, maybe?
DG: Pretty much, I think.
GW: And I know it lasted a lifetime.
DG: Almost 54 years.
GW: I want to go through your, I know you got married and you had children. What were your children’s names?
DG: Well, my son’s name was Dale, Dale Everett Garwood.
GW: And he was born in?
DG: He was born August 23, 1953.
GW: Okay, and then your next?
DG: My next oldest child is Bethany Erin. She was born February 11, 1960, 57, I’m sorry 57. And my youngest in Judy, Judith Ann. She was born in 1960 on January 11.
GW: You obviously weren’t versed in raising children. How did you deal with, I mean was it difficult for you?
DG: You do what you have to do.
GW: You do have to do what you have to do, but you must have been a little lost. They didn’t have all these self-help books out there saying don’t feed them this and...
DG: We didn’t have time to read them books
GW: No rest for you. My earliest memory was with Dale. When I was up, I think I was staying the summer and, I mean what did you feel like when they were each born? What were your emotions at the time?
DG: Well, I was pretty proud, of course. Proud of all my kids.
GW: Of course.
DG: Yes.
GW: You know, did you have certain dreams that you remember for them? I know you wanted the best for them, but did you have certain hopes?
DG: No, I tried not to do that.
GW: Well, you probably didn’t want them to have the life you had or fight the wars you fought.
DG: Well, I don’t know. I didn’t find anything too awful wrong with my life, you know.
GW: Yeah, but nobody wants their kids to go to war or things like that.
DG: No, but there again, you do what you have to do, you know.
GW: Okay.
DG: It was a privilege as far as I was concerned to be able to serve my country.
GW: I remember when you were dating my sister. It’s amazing that you got married because I remember I was being a royal pain. Do you remember those times?
DG: Oh, yes, yes.
GW: I would accidently walk into her bedroom, the darkened bedroom, and pretend like I didn’t know anyone was in there. What did you think of me at those times?
DG: Not much. I’d really grown to hate you in all those years.
GW: Oh, I know. I was a little terror and I was always embarrassed because, quite frankly, you were my hero. I didn’t show it at the time. I remember once from Korea you brought me back this very, very gaudy jacket, silk, with a dragon on the back and I was the proudest kid in the world that you did that and you probably bought it with gritted teeth saying I wish that brat would go away.
DG: That’s not true, that’s not true.
GW: But you were my hero. Okay, I’d like to, you know, we won’t go through now about your kids growing up and things like that, maybe a little bit later we’ll get into that a little bit more. I’d like to ask a little bit about the positions you held in Saranac Lake. Now we heard about your earlier years where you were working. When you came back, of course you had a wife, you had a family to support. What jobs did you hold when you came back from Korea?
DG: Well, I went back work for Cheeseman’s Sport Shop when I first came back and then I was asked to take a position with the police department in 1953 and I accepted the position and I served on the police department until 1965. I had just under 13 years in the department.
GW: And what did you do after that?
DG: Went into the contracting business because I was working two jobs when I was on the police department and working for a contractor.
GW: To support all this family.
DG: Well, you have to do what you have to do.
GW: You do what you have to do, that’s your motto. Then I know you became fire chief, didn’t you, at one point?
DG: I did.
GW: Did you start off as chief?
DG: I joined the fire department in 1959 and in 1973 I became chief. I’d held all the other positions before and I was chief from 1973 to 1976, for four years.
GW: Did you stay active in the department?
DG: I stayed active until 1999, for 40 years
GW: That’s an amazing career.
DG: Until my wife became ill and I kind of had to give up the traveling I was doing for the fireman’s association for the State of New York.
GW: Now I know your three kids got married and you had how many grandchildren by each child?
DG: Well, my son had two children, a boy and a girl. And my oldest daughter has four because she had two at a time and my youngest child has three children. So altogether I have 9 grandchildren and now I have 2 great grandchildren.
GW: And so you’re just waiting around so you can be a great great grandparent I suspect.
DG: Great, great, great grandparent.
GW: So, yeah I know something unfortunate happened to Dale and I don’t want to get into that too much and I know it hurt you very badly. Tell me about my sister’s illness and what happened. I know you don’t want to talk about this too much.
DG: Well, she was a smoker, of course, and I say of course, not everybody’s a smoker, but she did smoke and then around Christmastime 2005 she developed a real severe cough and she finally spit up some blood and I took her to the hospital and they ran a bunch of tests on her and they finally determined that she had small cell lung cancer. We engaged the help of Hospice at that time and she lasted five weeks from the day she was diagnosed till she passed away. She died on February 26, 2006.
GW: Well, I know you loved her.
DG: Yeah.
GW: Let’s see, have you developed any serious illnesses? I know you’ve been in the hospital a few times.
DG: Well, I really, I didn’t realize I was developing I guess, I had, Dr. Waickman sent me to Plattsburgh to have a heart catherization and possible stenting because I was having some problems, shortness of breath and whatnot. I went down there and ran through a whole battery of tests and they finally decided that I should go to St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany and have open heart surgery which I did. I had open heart surgery and worked on two valves, they gave me a new aorta, replaced one of my carotid arteries and send me home, sent me to rehab. So I was in the nursing home for rehab for two months, yeah two months and then came home. I was allowed to go to my daughters for a short period of time because I was on an IV because I had developed ??? when I was in the hospital and I was still on the IV but they let me go home from the nursing home because I could still do the IV with her help so I stayed at her house for a month and then she brought me home. I left home on the 24th of June to take a ride to Plattsburgh and I got back home on the 30th day of September.
GW: I remember once your daughter called me up virtually saying that, you know, you were making out your last will and testament and you were prepared to go and everything and you weren’t eating very well. I tell the story, it may not be true, but it makes a good story, I said that one of Beth’s daughters gave you a cheeseburger and you immediately recovered thereafter, so I came up thinking I was going to see this dead man and, in fact saw this very healthy young man. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it does make a good story. Well, now you have retired and you’re living in a place that a lot of people envy your living arrangements at and that’s Saranac Village at Will Rogers. Do you have any sort of thoughts about this place?
DG: Oh, I enjoy it very much, you know, you don’t have to do very much for yourself, you know, everything is pretty much done for you. You have three meals a day, housekeeping.
GW: They have social events here too I guess.
DG: Oh, yeah, something’s going on all the time.
GW: And they drive you to places like twice a week, stuff like that.
DG: They take you to the doctor or take you on errands, you can go to the store, take trips to Plattsburgh, here and there. So, it’s a very nice environment, very nice.
GW: Well, we are going to wrap this up. Is there anything you want to add to any of this. I little bit about yourself, about your life, or about anything in general?
DG: No.
GW: Well, I appreciate you doing this because I know you were a little reluctant but it’s important to have living histories of people who actually were part of this town. You virtually lived in the town your entire life except for a couple of years going to Korea.
DG: That’s true.
GW: A couple little vacation jaunts here and there, so you know as much about the town as anyone I suspect, so.
DG: I’ve probably forgotten more about this town.
GW: With your move you are probably happy that that took place too, you know.
DG: But I do like to get together with people who have lived here too and reminisce, you know. If one doesn’t think of something, the other one does.
GW: I love the area, I always think it’s my home town, even though I didn’t live here many, many years. It’s always the place I come back to and the place that rejuvenates me. So, Donn, thanks an awful lot for enduring this interview.
DG: You’re welcome.
GW: Okay, Donn, I know there were a couple other things we wanted to add and that was your employment at a school. What was the name of that school?
DG: It was the BOCES school which stands for the Board Of Cooperative Educational Services.
GW: And what did you do there?
DG: I was a building trades instructor, building construction.
GW: And how many years were you
DG: I was situated there for 14 years.
GW: Okay, and kind of a job you really liked doing?
DG: I did, I did.
GW: You also mentioned you were on some planning board. Tell me about that.
DG: 1979 I joined the Harrietstown Zoning Board of Appeals, and I was on that board for 11 years. I was Chairman of the Board from 1979 to 1989.
GW: So, what typical things did you do?
DG: I got mixed up, I got different dates on that.
GW: That’s all right.
DG: '87 to '90 I was the chairman.
GW: And what typically did you deal with?
DG: Any appeals that were brought in on housing, construction, that sort of thing that were turned down by the zoning board, if it was setbacks, or sidelines or that sort of thing, we made decisions on whether we could grant a variance or not, so the people could go ahead with their plans.
GW: You probably had some angry people once in a while?
DG: Oh yes, yes. A number of times.
GW: Okay. Anything else you want to add for the record?
DG: No, I can’t think of anything.
GW: Okay, thank you.