Veteran Ed Garber Sr. celebrates 100 years on May 16

Ed Garber

Local veteran and businessman Ed Garber Sr. will turn 100 years old on Monday, May 16.

“I think the reason I got to this age was working hard, I kept myself busy and that kept my body in shape,” Ed said.

Early Life

Edward Garber Sr. was born on a farm near Berwick on May 16, 1922, the sixth of nine children born to Andrew and Anna (Hartter) Garber. Ed lost two younger sisters as infants and a brother was hit and killed on a bicycle when he was 14. He grew up on the farm where his parents made their full-time work raising kids and caring for animals on 240 acres of farm ground.

“My mother always had a good, big garden,” Ed said. “Back then, you had to.”

Ed attended Berwick Country School, where he walked a mile every day until eighth grade, at which point he and his brothers had to stay home and help on the farm.

“There was always plenty of work to do on the farm and we didn’t have the equipment like they do now,” Ed said. “Instead of tractors, we used horses for a long time, and then dad finally took some hogs to St. Joe and he got money from them and bought his first tractor.” 

Ed learned his way around the kitchen very early on.

“The youngest one always had to stay around and help mother in the kitchen,” Ed Garber Jr. said. “And since his two sisters died and his brother was six years younger than him, he had a lot of kitchen detail and he learned how to cook pretty good.”

Ed’s favorite past time growing up was playing baseball. He enjoyed being the catcher and playing in the outfield.

“He had an uncle come and bring them baseballs and gloves, and everybody would get out there and play ball on the farm until they were old enough to start playing on the town teams,” Ed Jr. said.

Then, when Ed was old enough to play for the town teams on Sunday afternoons, he was on a team that helped raise money to get lights put up on the old ball field on fourth street so they could play at night.

“Baseball was a thrill to life,” Ed said.

Military Career

Ed was sworn into service at Leavenworth on July 14, 1944. He was then sent to armored training in Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training. Following several months of training, they were graded.

“I was certified as qualified to do all duties from tank commander to driver,” Ed said.

Ed received orders to go to Germany. By then, Ed had close to a year in the service in the States. The 779th Tank Battalion’s equipment was shipped to New York in preparation for transportation to Europe, but with the Allies fast closing on the last of the German forces there, the orders for the 779th were changed in May 1945.

“Before all personnel left for New York, orders came down that we weren’t needed in Europe,” Ed said. “We then just kept in good physical shape while we waited for orders.”

Finally, the unit was ordered to go to the Pacific Theater of Operations to participate in the upcoming invasion of the Japanese home islands, so his unit was moved to the west coast.

“We had a train ride from Fort Knox, Ky., to Camp Stoneman, Calif., for our port of embarkation,” Ed said.

Ed and his unit boarded the USS Jane Addams at Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg, Calif., and sailed for the western Pacific, where they were to be in the second wave of the expected assault on mainland Japan.

Ed recalled the slow ship he was on when heading to Japan, they were always on the lookout for enemy submarines.

“As we then just killed time at sea, the Little Boy atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima [on Aug. 6, 1945], then Fat Boy on Nagasaki [on Aug. 9, 1945],” Ed said.

The use of the atomic bomb in August 1945 against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made the invasion unnecessary, so Ed’s unit landed in the Philippine Islands instead.

“In the Philippine’s, he had a pet spider monkey, then he wanted to bring it home and they wouldn’t let him,” Ed Jr said. “He’s always liked animals.”

Following five months of guard duty at the large prison housing Japanese prisoners of war, Ed was transferred to the island of Okinawa, Japan, where he was attached to the 316th Bomb Wing, which flew the B-29 bomber.

“After six months in the Philippines, then six months on the rock [Okinawa], which was called a stone’s throw from Tokyo, I was eligible to come home,” Ed said.

Ed was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal and numerous gunnery medals.

After his discharge on Sept. 3, 1946, Ed returned home to the family farm.

Life After service

When Ed came back from serving his country, he and his brother Chuck helped out on the family farm a year and then he went into construction. He helped on the addition of the Sabetha High School gym and the new band room. The foreman told Ed that he had laid brick all over the United States, but never saw anyone as quick as Ed.

In 1949, Ed helped build five houses in Hiawatha. His group included eight people initially, but after the first project, only three remained to work building houses and remodeling homes in Hiawatha, Horton and Sabetha, until late 1952. The brick mason thought Ed would be a good brick layer, and it didn’t take Ed long to be a master.

Ed did many of the masonry jobs in the area including, laying brick for the hospital in Axtell, several houses in Sabetha, Midway Café and he was the head mason on the Hiawatha Elementary School, and he knew how to build the perfect fireplace.

“I liked to do the work and I made good money at it,” Ed said.

During 1953, Ed would go to Topeka and stay all week long and helped build the VA hospital — in building seven, he laid all the glazed tile.

Ed took great pride in his craft and did quality work. Ed recalled a time when his job was inspected.

“The inspector came out to check on the job and asked who did that work, and I said, ‘I’m the only one here, had to be me.’”

In January 1958, Ed bought Walton and Rooney Building and Equipment.

“Garber Building Material sold all sorts of building materials, rebar, paint, awnings, storm doors, shingles, we had a little bit of everything,” Ed Jr. said.

They had a three sack mixer and two dumptrucks. They use to haul the cement in dumptrucks and the sack cement they received had to be unloaded by hand from the railroad car.

He sold the business in October 1998. Then, he and Sonny Mowder ran G&M Golf Car Sales and Ed worked on golf cars until he was 96.

Wife and family

Ed and Rosemary Cramer were married in Sabetha on Dec. 31, 1947, at the First Congregational Church.

Deserted by her first husband, Rosemary had a son John, who was five years old when Ed and Rosemary got married. Then, they had twins — Ed Jr. and Margaret. They spent their lives in Sabetha.

They did not do much traveling as Ed was busy working to pay off their business.

Rosemary did the bookkeeping for Garber Building Material. They were married for 45 years when she died of cancer in 1993.

Ed always enjoyed hunting, fishing and gardening. 

“When I was a kid, we ate a lot of pheasant and quail in the winter. Dad and a couple of his brothers and a friend would go out hunting and bring home plenty of pheasant and quail.” Ed Jr. said.

They always had a big garden to work as well.

“He has a green thumb,” Ed Jr. said.

Memories On the farm

Ed shared many memories from growing up on the farm with his family and all the trouble they got into.

“They were full of shenanigans,” Ed Jr. said.

Every Saturday, Ed’s parents would go to town to do their shopping and leave the kids home, and they never really knew what they might come home to.

“Carl Munz use to say to the neighbor kids, ‘We better go down to the Garber farm, the boys will have a circus.’ They [Garber boys]would try to ride any animal they had around there, bare back,” Ed Jr. said.

Once, Ed and his brother Fritz got their model ford stuck against a tree.

“The Model Ford had a crank on the front, that’s how you get them started, my older brother kept going up around the barn a bit faster every time. Finally he ran too fast, so he hit the brake and when he came to rest, the crank was up against the tree, and there was no way to get that crank to turn, so we had to jack the hind wheel up and turn it with the hind wheel to get it going again, and he took off again!” Ed said.

One year, in the 1930s when there was record heat, the boys decided to sleep outside on a well platform where it was a little cooler, but the next morning when they woke up, there were snakes all around them.

“Times have changed, there’s nothing like that anymore,” Ed said.

Another time, his brother Chuck shot a hole in the washtub.

“Bunch of kids there, always something going on,” Ed said.

Ed’s mom could always tell when the boys had been making taffy because the door on the pantry was sticky.

After harvest, Ed would go shovel coal off a railroad car — that was hard, dirty work.

“When we got the dust off my overalls, my mother said, ‘You are not going to work any more scooping coal, it’s too hard to get them clean,’” Ed said.

He would make $4 to $5 shoveling the coal, but he’d have to spend $3 of his hard-earned money to buy a new pair of overalls.

Ed recalled one time when they brought cattle into town to sell.

“We had a bunch of cattle to take to market and a train come along blow the whistle, and ladies had linens hanging on clotheslines and the cattle just scattered all over town, had a time rounding them all back up.”

Later Years

Ed has been a life member of Sabetha Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post No. 7285 since 1964. He served as post commander  and was the senior vice commander of the post. He is also a life member of the American Legion and Past Master of the Masonic Lodge.

“He stayed active and was always doing something. He donated a lot of time at the VFW and actually bought the VFW building when it went up for sale and donated it to them back in the late 1960s,” Ed Jr. said.

He was a member of the Shriners and a charter member of the Lion’s Club, and helped with boat races they had at the old Sabetha Lake. 

Ed also had the privilege of participating in the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial.

He has four grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren that bring him joy.

Ed just recently moved into the Sabetha Manor.

“They tell me he’s a good patient, he’s always got a smile and he’s kind of quiet until people talk to him, but he doesn’t cause any trouble,” Ed Jr. said.

He loves to play golf and still enjoys getting out on the course when the weather is warm.

To celebrate Ed’s 100th birthday, friends and family are invited to an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 15, at the VFW in Sabetha. In addition, you are encouraged to send a birthday card to the Sabetha Manor at 1441 Oregon St., Sabetha, KS 66534.

Editor’s Note: Portions of this article were taken from Patty Locher’s story on Ed, which was printed in the Nov. 7, 2012, Veteran’s Day Section of The Sabetha Herald.

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