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.