11th Airborne Paratrooper – Melvin Garten

Col. Melvin Garten

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Media’s self-importance never dies

An Associated Press photographer died. He was the fellow who took the picture of a fully armed paramilitary immigration enforcement officer taking a screaming child of six by force who was hiding with an adult in a closet, as the Clinton administration had no compunction about separating a Legal Immigrant from his family on American soil.

The Associated Press ran a 749-word obituary on the photographer, Alan Diaz. It was an interesting story — AP hired him after he took the SWAT team-crying kid photo.

But the story was a bit much, and a reminder of the media’s overblown sense of importance. The word iconic appeared four times.

Which brings me to a story I read about Melvin Garten, a real hero. His death brought no AP obituary because he never got a byline:

Toby Harnden, the Times of London reporter who has covered war with the troops and United States politics with equanimity, tweeted on May 6, 2015: “Trumpeter, food blogger, actress, golfer get New York Times obits today, but this man has his death notice paid for by family.”

The man whose family had to pay for his obituary was Melvin Garten, the most decorated and forgotten soldier at the time of his death.

Heroes are born and made. Melvin Garten was born May 20, 1921 in New York City, where he became another smart Jewish boy attending City College of New York.  Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, greatly altered his immediate plans. Upon graduation from CCNY, he joined the Army and became a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Division.  He then married his girlfriend, Ruth Engelman of the Bronx, in November 1942. She was a war bride. Everyone said the marriage wouldn’t last, and they were right because the marriage ended on January 9, 2013 — the day she died.

Melvin and Ruth Garten

Melvin went off to the Pacific Theater of the war, where he participated in what can only be described as an audacious airborne raid of Los Banos in 1945, rescuing more than 2,000 U.S. and Allied civilians from a Japanese prison camp. He was a highly decorated soldier, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, a Presidential Unit Citation and the Purple Heart with three Oak Leak Clusters for his wounds in battle. He was tough and handsome and courageous.

As would war. At dawn on Sunday, June 25, 1950, with the permission of Stalin, the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel behind artillery fire. Melvin was back in combat. Captain Garten proved his mettle again as commander of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.  President Eisenhower awarded him the Distinguished Service Cross.

The citation reads: “Captain Garten distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces near Surang-ni, Korea, on 30 October 1952. On that date, observing that assault elements of Companies F and G were pinned down by withering fire on a dominant hill feature, Captain Garten voluntarily proceeded alone up the rugged slope and, reaching the besieged troops, found that key personnel had been wounded and the unit was without command. Dominating the critical situation through sheer force of his heroic example, he rallied approximately eight men, assigned four light machine guns, distributed grenades and, employing the principle of fire and maneuver, stormed enemy trenches and bunkers with such tenacity that the foe was completely routed and the objective secured. Quickly readying defensive positions against imminent counterattack he directed and coordinated a holding action until reinforcements arrived. His inspirational leadership, unflinching courage under fire and valorous actions reflect the highest credit upon himself and are in keeping with the cherished traditions of the military service.”

Pork Chop Hill

Having served at Luzon and Pork Chop Hill, Captain Garten came home and the family moved around. Ruth took care of her men.

“I never even bought my own clothes,” Melvin told Mike Francis of the Oregonian a few months before her death. “I never went shopping. It was not a part of my life. As an Army wife, she took care of those things.”

Their sons were in their teens when the Vietnam War erupted. Melvin earned his Combat Infantry Badge for the third time — perfect attendance as those men with that distinction of serving in those three wars called their service. The Army put him in command of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry in 1968 and he reinvigorated the unit, calling it the No Slack battalion.

Just as he almost completed the turnaround, his jeep ran over a Vietcong mine, sending shrapnel to his leg and to his head. Another war, another Purple Heart, only this time it cost him his leg. The military sent him to Walter Reed to recuperate.

Ruth went alone, shielding her sons from the news, as they were in college. She wanted to see how he was. Melvin was in horrible condition. His head wound was more serious than their sons realized. For nearly a year, he worked to recover from the explosion. Melvin wanted to stay on active duty as a one-legged paratrooper. She supported his decision. They had to appear before a medical board. Ruth told the Oregonian, “When I got there, they wanted to know only one thing. ‘Was he as difficult a man before was wounded as he is now?’ one board member asked. ‘No difference,’ I answered. And he passed.”

His assignment was as post commander of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Airborne and Special Operational Forces, a nod to his sterling and exemplary service under fire.

Gen. Eichelberger (C) w/ Gen. Swing (R) planning the raid of Los Banos

Melvin retired as the most decorated man in the Army at the time with the Distinguished Service Cross, four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, five Purple Hearts, two Legion of Merits, two Joint Service Commendations, a Combat Infantry Badge for each of three wars, and a Master Parachutist Badge with two combat jump stars. Melvin paid dearly for those awards, but so did Ruth. She was one of the few women to receive five telegrams over the years informing her that her husband was wounded in combat. And by few, I mean I do not know of another.

But his retirement in Florida began three wonderful decades for them. In 2000, Ruth and Melvin moved to Oregon to live near their son,  Allan. Doctors diagnosed her as having Parkinson’s. Mike Francis interviewed Melvin and their sons 11 months before her death. Melvin said, “All these things she put up with. All the things she did for the family. She kept our lives going for 70 years. ”

Following her death on January 9, 2013, the family buried her in Arlington, where all our military heroes belong. He joined her there following his death on May 2, 2015.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

Para-Toast.

‘I count only four parachutes. Where’s Mr. Simms?’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Richard Bettinson – Pelly, CAN; RC Air Force/RAF, WWII, ETO

John Carberg – New London, CT; USMC

Robert Daughtery – Clinton, IN; US Army, WWII, PTO, 3rd Signal Battalion

Paul Fournier – Cleveland, OH; US Navy, WWII

John Graziano – Elkridge, MD; US Air Force, Captain, 87th Flying Training Squadron, KIA

Hank Kriha – Oshkosh, WI; US Army, WWII, PTO, 32nd Red Arrow Division

George McClary – Pueblo, CO; US Coast Guard, WWII, USS El Paso

James Ruff – Summitt, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, SSgt., 11th Airborne Division

Harold Sullivan – Morriston, FL; US Army, WWII, ETO / Korea, Purple Heart

John Yordan – Detroit, MI; US Army

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on November 19, 2018, in First-hand Accounts, Korean War, Uncategorized, Vietnam, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 137 Comments.

  1. My WWII vet friend tells me that Truman was warned not to remove US troops from S. Korea after WWII, that the North would attack. Truman wasn’t very in touch with reality in the intelligence area and ignored the warning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sometimes i wonder how itr must be for the wives who man (or should I say woman?) the homefront. it must be difficult for them as well, just waiting for news about their hubbies. my salute to this wonderful couple. wonderful story, gp!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for your like of my post, ” Del Way, February 3, 1980;” you are very kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your like of my post, “God’s Presence;” you are very kind..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love heroes of the Military, Firefighters, and First Responders. And, it pains me when I hear of a hero dying in the line of duty. Cavalry Scouts and CalFire Rock, and so do Paratroopers!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Must admit this one brought a tear to my eyes GP. What I can’t understand is why Ike only award him a DSC? Had he have been English I have no doubt that what he did that day would have gained a Victoria Cross no less, and the English are loath to award that medal, I have read the citations for the Medal of Honor that don’t come near what this man did.

    He should have received a State funeral no less; as should his wife for bearing with and staying strong those 70 years.
    A truly remarkable post thank you GP

    Liked by 1 person

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