Tomas Garza’s Daughter – “Now I Don’t Feel Empty”
Like most children of World War II veterans, Anna Bowen knew very little about her father’s experiences in the war. She knew that as Private First Class (PFC) Tomas Garza, her dad had been wounded in the leg – she had seen the scar where a bullet or shrapnel had gone through. But as with nearly every WWII soldier, Tomas never talked about the war.
“Daddy had brought home a Japanese flag with a torn corner and dried blood. I was always fascinated by the dried blood and the torn corner, yet I knew not to ask my dad how he obtained that flag. Now I wish I had somehow managed to ask him about it when he was alive.”
She continues, “I am very grateful to Bill for helping me piece together my dad’s time in WWII, because it was always an important missing part of my daddy’s life that I really wanted to know about. I felt empty, because he passed away in 2000, and I knew I would never get any answers from Daddy. Now I don’t feel empty; I feel like I have answers to at least his documented time in the war. Only he could have shared his stories with me of his time in the war, but only he chose to keep those to himself, and I respect that he chose not to share those.”
Having searched for years for information about her dad’s injury and the places where he fought, Anna learned through an online WWII veterans’ discussion group of my reputation as a reliable researcher.
“I knew my daddy fought in Luzon [the largest of the Philippine islands]. However, I didn’t realize he fought throughout the Philippines. Bill’s research gave me information about where my dad traveled with his infantry [unit]. I learned where Dad was wounded.”
After locating the records I was after, I was able to summarize for Anna where Private Garza’s unit, 129th Infantry Regiment, Company F, fought between October 1944 and September 1945:
The Company began this period still on Bougainville. They moved to the Philippines and landed in Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945, and went into combat immediately. During their time in the Philippines, they are engaged in very heavy combat at Fort Stotsenburg in January; Manila in February; and at Salat in La Union Province in April. They remained on Luzon for their entire time in combat.
There was only one reference to PFC Garza during this time period. This tells us that, despite the numerous battle (and non-battle) casualties incurred during the Company he managed to remain well and uninjured. On July 15, PFC Garza was transferred to the Service Company of the 129th Infantry.
Company F was on the island of Bougainville (present-day Papua New Guinea) for the entire month of February, where Private First Class Garza was wounded in battle on or around February 16.
My research allowed me to show troop movements, battles, victories, pursuit of the fleeing Japanese Army, extensive casualties that the unit experienced, men evacuated from the company due to illness, and even transport aboard the USS Saratoga in December 1944, where an “excellent Christmas dinner [was] enjoyed by troops.” The records included that PFC Garza was a farmer prior to joining the military.
Anna shared with me, “Bill’s information was very interesting and it made me feel so connected to my dad. I always hesitated to ask my dad anything about his time in the service, especially during the war, because he suffered from what my parents called “shell shock” – what today we call PTSD. We were always told to never wake daddy up suddenly or talk about the war with him. So I never got to ask him questions or talk to him about his experiences. Bill’s research made me actually see where he may have gone on a given day throughout his time in the war.”
About receiving the results of the research, Anna continued – “I was moved to tears at times, especially when I read about him wounding his leg, because I saw the scar from his injury and I was able to read the report of when he had been wounded – on paper – during the war. This made it more real to me, it just made me feel like I was there with him. I just imagined him being there injured, and wondering how he must have felt.”
I asked Anna what effect the research had on members of her family. Here’s some of what she shared with me:
“I shared the information with my children, my grandchildren, my brother, and he shared it with his children and grandchildren. My brother has grandchildren that are part Philippine heritage and they were amazed at the information and very interested. My granddaughter was interested, because she just joined the Navy and helped me put my daddy – her grandfather’s – medals in a shadow box. She felt very proud after learning about her grandfather’s WWII history. I [also] put together some information for each of my grandchildren, so they would have information on their grandfather who served in WWII. It is their legacy.”
Anna and her family have searched high and low for photos of Tomas Garza in uniform, to no avail. However, she shared a photo of a family treasure – a wooden bust of her father, in a style that was available from photography studios between the 1940s through the 1970s.
Anna took time out from volunteering to make masks for healthcare workers and first-responders during the Covid-19 pandemic to answer interview questions for this story. My thanks to Anna and everyone who has participated in this effort – similar to the way that Americans at home participated in the war effort during World War II. Thank you, Anna.
Photos courtesy of Anna Bowen, used by permission.
Wonderful story of a daughter who needed closure. I am the daughter of a WWII and Korean War (2 tours) veteran who died in 2008. My father served for 23 years in the Army; yet, he never spoke of his service in the Philippines or Korea. I know he got Malaria while in the Philippines. Not much more. I would love to have more information concerning his service. Will be contacting you, Bill.
Thanks for this note. I can certainly assist you in researching your father’s service in World War 2 and Korea, as well as locate further information on the malaria he contracted. Please send me an inquiry at email@example.com and we’ll go from there.
I have dates of my dads injury in France and matched it to where his infantry was in battle on that date in Mt Didier Rhineland campaign . He was a welder . I’d love to verify this as accurate and know where his journey started in Europe with his group , Where he arrived and left for home wounded . Was he cared for by village people or what medical help , hospitals . He laid in battle field 3-4 days wounded supposedly . One leg shorter then the other after repair and yes PTSD.
Great research and tribute to Private First Class (PFC) Tomas Garza. Bill continues to help so many families in discovery and closure.
MIA:No man left behind?
Hi, Jim. Thank you – I appreciate the kind words very much. Hope you’re doing well and it’s nice to hear from you. Best, Bill.
your research for so many of us who either lost one of our own or whose story of men and women, especially in WWII helped us to learn “the Whole Story”. your history of my dad which I really didn’t have except some of his records that were partially destroyed in the ST. Louis fire of 72 meant more and actually you gave me some history of my mother who died in 47, two years later that I didn’t know. thank you for the extra mile.
My father was Pvt Everett Roberts, Co F, 310 Inf, 78th Div who was killed 12 March 1945 at Ohlendorf, Germany across the Bridge at Remagen. the story gave me a lot of insight and I actually talked with his platoon commander, who told me the story along with several of the men who were there. he was a replacement on the morning of 12 Mar 45, up from the fighting in Italy, how I don’t know but he was there along with 13 others that fateful morning at 0700 hours. they were briefed and moved out, the lt reported by 12 he had 5 men left the left all being killed or wounded in the counter-attack by 88’s, infantry and tanks at this little village. you told me my dad died of concussion which must have devastating to those young men and terrifying. I am a Vietnam veteran, not having seen combat as an AF SSgt at a communication site at Binh Thuy AB, southeast of Saigon by Cantho in the Mekong Delta but my first tour was in Thailand as support comm. however at Binh Thuy we did go through many mortar attacks so I know the sound and explosion which being in a bunker helped shield that but being in a village with the sounds that these men experienced made me admire them all the more. God Bless and Remember Them.