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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Who was Earl Garrett?

Kerrville's Victor Earl Garrett
2nd Lt Victor Earl Garrett, circa 1917

Ninety-nine years ago last Wednesday, on October 4, 1918, Victor Earl Garrett died near Exermont, France. He was only 24.
Garrett was a 2nd Lieutenant, a member of the 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, U. S. Army, and died during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
For many people, Earl Garrett is just the name of a street in downtown Kerrville. But he was a brave young man who volunteered to fight for his country, a member of a prominent local family, a family who mourned his death for the rest of their lives.
I've written elsewhere about Sidney Baker and Francisco Lemos, the other two heroes of World War I who are memorialized with a street name in Kerrville. Like Garrett, both Lemos and Baker died in battle.
Lt. Garrett was killed in action while leading an attack of five men on 30 entrenched German soldiers; his four fellows survived the attack, and managed to take 20 German prisoners.
For his heroism that day, and for an incident the previous July, Garrett was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
On July 19, 1918, during the fighting near Soissons, Garrett supervised the care of his wounded men with disregard for his own safety. And on his last day, despite having an injured foot, he refused to be sent back to safety, and led the attack on the German soldiers.
He was a student at the University of Texas at Austin when war was declared, and, according to the Daily Texan of November 19, 1919, "he was among the first students to leave school in the spring of 1917 for the training camp at Leon Springs." Garrett's name was among the 88 names read at the University on November 14, 1919, when the campus honored its war dead.
The Kerrville community remembered him fondly. Pastor W. P. Dickey wrote this memorial:
"It is given to some to impress others by some striking gift or to fall through some great weakness or misfortune but rarely does one make a profound impression simply by what he is; that, I think, was the supreme distinction of Earl Garrett.
"Quiet, gentle and unassuming as a child, a youth and as a man, yet he was in all crowned with the spontaneous love and respect of all who knew him. In his Christian life he was modest and unpretentious, yet so sincere and constant as to command the admiring comment of fellow students and soldiers.
"Loving the life of a student and a dreamer, the call of duty and loyalty to the highest ideals of a citizen and Christian proved him a man of the clearest convictions and of a courage which did not falter at any danger of hardship nor hesitate to give life itself, that truth might live."
Earl Garrett had several sisters, including an older sister named Harriet, who became a teacher in the Kerrville public schools. There are many who still remember her as a teacher, but few may remember she was also a published poet. I have a signed copy of one of her books of poetry, "Nostalgia," published in 1941, which includes the poem 'An Old Refrain (to my brother Earl).'

Those last few days before he left for France
I can't forget, though years have passed. One glance
Into that sacred page brings back the pain
That now has come to be an old refrain.

Our hearts were heavy; yet we tried to smile
Whene'er we caught his eye. And all the while
Our very souls about him seemed to yearn;
And all our thoughts were prayers for his return!

And when the time had come for him to go --
That final hour that each had dreaded so --
We sent him off with smiles to hide our pain; 
We hoped the Spring would bring him home again!

But many Springs have come and gone since then,
And he no longer knows the haunts of men.
His body lies in France where poppies nod;
His soul dwells up in Glory-land with God!

But those last days before he left for France
I can't forget, though years have passed. One glance
Into that sacred page brings back the pain
That now has come to be an old refrain.

That was the person for whom a street was named in Kerrville. Victor Earl Garrett was a young man, a dreamer, who felt called to duty, who was brave to the end.  He is buried in France, at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial.  Sidney Baker is also buried there.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who finds some columns harder to write than others. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 7, 2017.





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