Fifty-eight years after saving a life, Stanford man receives Bronze Star

December 18, 2003|JIM LOGAN

STANFORD - George Garrison wasn't trying to be a hero 58 years ago, and he sure wasn't looking to be treated like one now.

But the past and the federal government caught up to him, thanks to "a slip of the tongue" and a pair persistent nephews. The result: Nearly a lifetime later, Garrison finally has the Bronze Star he earned for saving a wounded comrade under fire in the waning days of World War II.

A modest man who radiates a quiet decency, he doesn't much talk about what happened on June 6, 1945. He was just a soldier doing his job who was fortunate to come out of the war with his skin intact.

Garrison was a squad leader during the battle of Luzon Island in the Philippines when a group of GIs ran into a Japanese machine gun nest. One of the soldiers to go down was Earl Ponder, who was hit in the arm and foot and pinned down by constant fire.


With the air heavy with lead, Garrison took a couple of men to rescue Ponder. "I could see the ground a-chippin', " Garrison said of the bullets tearing up chunks of the battlefield's blasted earth.

Ponder had fallen in high grass. The Japanese machine gunner knew where the wounded GI was.

"Every time that grass'd move, he'd fire," Ponder recalled. " I don't know how George ever found me, but he found me."

Most of the rescue is a blur to Ponder, who is 89 and lives in Livingston. "I don't remember too much about it," he said. "I lost so much blood."

But he remembered enough to recommend Garrison for a citation. The war, however, ended three months later and Garrison's bravery slipped through the bureaucratic cracks of an Army busy sending thousands of soldiers home.

It wasn't until years later, when they were both civilians in Kentucky, that Ponder told Garrison about recommending him for a medal. Neither man followed up on it, and the subject lay dormant for decades.

Then one day, Garrison mentioned it in passing to his nephew Jim Garrison of Lexington.

"It was entirely accidental we found out about this," said Everett Garrison of Mount Sterling, Jim's brother. "A slip of the tongue."

The brothers went to work on getting their uncle his long overdue official recognition. It wasn't easy. Garrison's Army records were destroyed in a fire in 1978. They sought the help of then-Congressman Ernie Fletcher, whose staff prodded the Army to expedite the case. Eventually, the service had enough evidence that it authorized a Bronze Star for Garrison.

The man he saved thinks the Army could've done better.

"Should've got a higher medal than that, far as that goes," said Ponder, whose wounds left him partly disabled.

It's enough for Garrison, who received the medal and a citation the day after Thanksgiving. On Saturday his nephews organized a dinner in his honor at The Depot restaurant in Stanford.

"It was the first time the family had even heard about what happened," said Everett Garrison.

Today, George Garrison lives with his wife of 53 years, Margaret, in the house they've shared for nearly as long. He's been a lucky man, and he knows it.

In the battle of Luzon, from Jan. 9 to June 30, 10,380 Americans died and 36,550 were wounded. Garrison, who also fought in New Guinea and Leyte Island, never received as much as a scratch.

He saw plenty of men die, but if there's a kind of divine sorting going on, he can't explain it.

"I guess a higher power picks out the ones who do," he said. "I don't know."

Earl Ponder, though, is certain of one thing: "He saved my life."

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