99-year-old WWII vet, a Purple Heart recipient, gives glimpse of time overseas
By MARY FREDA | The Times | Published: July 9, 2020
CROWN POINT, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — Though it's been decades since he served in World War II, Edward "Ed" Gargano doesn't talk much about his time in the Pacific Theater.
Even as his 100th birthday approaches on July 20, the 99-year-old World War II veteran prefers to chat about what he left at home while he served overseas with the 754th Tank Battalion.
Gargano is one of the few WWII veterans left in the Hoosier state. By September 2020, there will be 5,354 WWII veterans in Indiana, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2015, there were 16,833.
When he was 21, already married and a father, Gargano was drafted into the United States Army. He spent a year overseas and returned for Christmas in 1945.
"When I went into the service, I had two children; that was the only hard part to leave," he said.
Before being drafted, Gargano had just purchased a home, leaving his wife, Yvonne, to care for the children and maintain the bills.
"She said many days she went to bed hungry. She had it rough, that's the one that had it rough, my wife," he said.
Gargano is soft spoken about the war, but when it comes to Yvonne, his wife of 71 years, or his family, he opens up more.
"I would be nothing, nobody, if not for her," Gargano said of his late wife.
When his three children were growing up, Gargano didn't talk about the war. It wasn't until the past couple years he began sharing stories, his daughters, Louanne Wright, who served for 11 years herself, and Peggy Kalmas, said recently.
"He didn't want to talk about it. He said it was a horrible, very horrible thing," Kalmas said.
Gargano himself agreed he doesn't talk about it much, but offers a small glimpse of his time: "Most of my time was ... we was making practice landings for the invasion of Japan," Gargano said, adding he spent more time on boats than he did landing aircraft.
The WWII veteran earned a Purple Heart for his service, but he doesn't remember why.
"He doesn't talk about a lot of it," Wright said, later adding:
"He's never really talked to us about it. He said, 'That's something I want to forget. I don't want to remember.' We've tried to get him to go to the World War II Memorial. He won't go."
"I just wanted to forget about it," Gargano chimed in.
During his time overseas, Gargano said the battalion traveled "all over," to all of the Pacific islands and ended up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
"That's all we did, was land on these different islands," he said.
Gargano said his battalion had 15 tanks and one retriever, all of which would go in one boat. The battalion didn't have personal weapons, he added.
"The Navy took our personal weapons. They used them for their souvenirs," he said with a chuckle.
The Hammond native fought in the Battle of Luzon, but he remains tight-lipped about his role in the battle: "Hedge-hoppin' that's all we did; hedge-hoppin' one place to the other."
"It was secret what they did," Kalmas chimed in.
While overseas, Gargano wasn't able to write home and often had trouble receiving correspondence from home.
"Really everything we did was censored. It was hard to get mail. She (Yvonne) would send packages, and I'd never get them," he said. "Everything was censored. I wasn't allowed to have a camera."
Gargano said he didn't write home often, adding he didn't have much time to and Yvonne never received mail, either. He didn't keep a journal of his time, either.
"Stuff used to come in on boats. ... They'd go over there and unload the boats and go to the packages and then throw them along the beach. We never received nothing. It was awful."
Upon returning home, he began working as a machinist for American Standard Oil. He worked there for 38 years.
"He's Mr. Fix It. He can fix anything, do anything. He figures out ways to get it all done," his son-in-law, Rich Kalmas, said.
Peggy Kalmas and Wright said while the family didn't have a lot of money, Gargano always made sure the kids had something to do.
"He was the best father in the world," Peggy Kalmas said, adding Gargano used to build them bikes from junkyard scrapes: "He made sure it was done well, too."
"Take about five bicycles to make one," Wright explained.
These days, Gargano enjoys going fishing, catching a Cubs game, cooking and attending Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church.
He visits Yvonne at 11 a.m. every day at the cemetery and often puts flowers out for her.