Garland Woodrow Collier was born on November 3, 1918, in Novice, Texas, a small community near the larger ‘small town’ of Coleman, Texas. His parents were Abner Belcher Collier and Abbie Morris Ralph Collier. They had come to the Coleman area in the early 1900’s, moving from the piney woods of East Texas out to the plains farther west. Garland was the youngest of seven surviving siblings, all of whom loved and treasured him as the youngest child in the family.
Our Collier family line can be traced back to its beginnings in France. Subsequent family generations indicate the family moves on to England. Later descendants eventually immigrated to the colonies prior to America’s establishing its independence. Garland’s family had a history of ‘service.’ Many of his ancestors on both sides served in the American Revolutionary War, the fight for Texas’ independence prior to its becoming a state, the Civil War, and World War I, among other conflicts. Garland’s “Collier” ancestors moved from Virginia to Georgia and ultimately settled in east Texas in the 1850’s, where Garland’s father Abner Collier was born in 1858. After his marriage to Abbie and their subsequent move west to Coleman, Garland’s father worked mostly as a tenant farmer during his remaining years there. Among Garland’s family on his mother’s side, the Ralph family, was his grandfather Henry Ralph, who was a Texas state legislator, a merchant, a justice-of-the peace, and a county commissioner for many years in the east Texas in the town of Jasper.
Garland’s siblings included three older sisters (Ina, Nannie Lee, and Era) and three older brothers (Ralph, Grady, and Dee). Garland attended schools in the Coleman area, the early ones mostly small rural community schools. High school records show that he was an average student, with interests in athletics (football, basketball, track) and other school clubs. Quite the athlete in high school, he enjoyed playing football later in life with his fellow Army buddies in the 3/506 while in training both in the States and in England. Later stories told by others report that he was also quite the boxer in ‘competitions’ held in his unit.
Today, Garland’s surviving nieces and nephews who remember being around him at that time in their early lives say that Garland had a great personality, was positive and outgoing, and was quite the ladies’ man! He was well-liked and popular with his peers, and he enjoyed life. Like all the Colliers, he had a strong work ethic and valued his family above all. After reviewing many of Garland’s wartime letters sent home, it is evident that Garland had a sentimental side, however tough of a paratrooper and soldier he was. He held great affection for all his brothers and sisters and their families, wrote to each and every family member, and always expressed interest in their activities, while going through his own tumultuous life in service to his country. He was truly a “swell fellow,” as some of his nieces have said, definitely a family guy!
After Garland’s parents’ deaths, he lived for a brief time with his older sister Ina in California; however, he returned to Texas, finished high school in Coleman, and graduated in 1938.
While living with his older sister Era and her family, he worked on the farm and at the dairy owned by his brother-in-law. After graduation, he held several other odd jobs in and around Coleman, but around 1940, decided to move to Bisbee, Arizona, where he worked alongside his older brother Dee in the copper mines as a mucker and miner for over two years, taking advantage of the government-established employment available through the Civilian Conservation Corps camps.
Both of Garland’s older brothers enlisted prior to him. Grady enlisted in the Army May, 1941, ASN 38031674, and became a M/SGT with the 834th Aviation Engineer Battalion in the 9th Air Force, serving in Europe in France and Belgium, and also later in Korea. His unit received battle commendations for its efforts in D-Day Plus One; Grady survived the war, and later helped to initiate investigations into the details of Garland’s death and the possible location of his remains on behalf of his family. He was “career Army,” and after retirement, lived in Virginia. Upon his death in 1975, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Choosing the Army like his older brother Grady, Dee enlisted January 27, 1942, from Ft. Bliss, Texas in El Paso, ASN 38071048. PFC Dee Collier trained at Ft. MacArthur, California, was sent to the Pacific June 19, 1942 for 24 months of duty, and served in the Aleutian Islands. Attached to the infantry, he fought in the attack by the Japanese on Dutch Harbor, June, 1942. After the war, Dee returned to Texas and eventually opened and maintained a successful saddle shop and western wear store, handcrafting beautiful saddles until retirement. Dee passed in 1991; among his belongings was a ‘war chest’ of memorabilia, containing many of Garland’s personal effects from the war which had been returned to his family after his death.
Following the footsteps of his two older brothers and wanting especially to join the elite new group of “paratroopers” being formed, Garland enlisted on September 1, 1942, in Phoenix just shy of age 24. Although he was born and bred in Texas, because he enlisted in Phoenix, in the state of Arizona, to this day, his Army service records and the memorial at the American Military Cemetery and Memorial in The Netherlands indicate that he was from Arizona. Unfortunately, Garland was the brother who not only didn’t survive the war, but never ‘returned home.’
GARLAND’S HISTORY OF SERVICE IN WWII - ARMY SERIAL NUMBER: 39849456
July 20, 1942 ~ 506th PIR activated at Camp Toccoa, GA under command of Lt. Col. Robert F. Sink (Regiment soon became known as “Currahees” after the mountain near the camp known by its American Indian name, meaning “stand alone.”)
September 1, 1942 ~ Garland enlisted “at large” in Phoenix, Arizona, September 1, 1942
November, 1942 ~ 506th PIR 3rd BTN travels by rail to Atlanta, GA, then undertakes 136 mile march to Ft. Benning, GA, setting new world’s record for an endurance march previously held by the Japanese Army. Advanced airborne training to include extensive parachute training.
January, 1943 ~ Earns Parachute Wings, Badge & Certificate, Class # 49, Ft. Benning, GA (Dec. 14, 1942 – Jan. 2, 1943) 506th PIR, 3rd BTN, Assigned to HQ CO, LMG (Light Machine Gun) Platoon
Spring, 1943 ~ Unit movement to Camp Mackall, North Carolina. Extensive airborne tactical training conducted here, including many night jumps.
March 6, 1943 ~ Promoted to Sergeant Grade IV, 506th PIR, Camp Mackall, North Carolina
May, 1943 ~ Completion of Non-Commissioned Officer’s School, Camp MacKall, North Carolina
June, 1943 ~ 506th PIR attached to 101st Airborne Division
June, 1943 ~ Unit movement to Tennessee for further training maneuvers in simulations “behind enemy lines”: establishing roadblocks, destroying bridges, snarling communications
June, 1943 ~ Unit movement to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Continued advanced training.
August, 1943 ~ Unit movement to Camp Shanks, New York. Preparation for overseas movement on vessel Samaria.
September 15, 1943 – 506th PIR arrives in Liverpool, England aboard the Samaria
September 1943 – June, 1944 ~ 506th posted in Wiltshire County, England; 3rd Battalion quartered in village of Ramsbury. Continued airborne and tactical training.
June 6, 1944 ~ Participated in Paratrooper Jump on “D-Day” into assigned Drop Zone in Cherbourg Peninsula area, Normandy, France. Departure from Exeter Airdrome, Ninth Air Force, 9th Troop Carrier Command, 440th Troop Carrier Group, Troop Carrier Squadron 96, aboard C-47A #42-100914. Chalk #27. Number two man in stick, behind jumpmaster S/SGT Thomas Simms. All twenty machine gunners were dropped near St. Come-du-Mont, occupied by the 6th German Paratrooper Regiment, several miles north of Carentan. Their C-47 took fire several times en route to their designated DZ (Drop Zone). After safely dropping all the men in the stick, unfortunately, on its way back to England, the plane crashed in the English Channel, killing all the crew aboard. From letters written home by his older brother Grady, the family had confirmation that Garland sustained minor wounds in France after D-Day. Grady ran into Garland’s unit while they were in France. They visited for about an hour; Grady later wrote to the family that Garland’s injuries were not serious enough for him to return to England earlier than others in his unit. He remained there and recovered, returning with the remainder of the 3rd BTN to Ramsbury in July.
July 10, 1944 ~ Proceeds with remaining surviving paratroopers from 101st to bivouac area near Utah Beach.
July 10-13, 1944 ~ Returned to Southhampton, England on LST (Landing Shore Transport). Rest & recovery, leave time, preparation for second big jump.
Sept. 17, 1944 ~ Second paratrooper jump into Holland as part of Operation Market-Garden, Plane #4, C47 Tail #43-47969, Chalk #49 Drop Zone “C” north of Son, Holland. Number two man in stick, behind jumpmaster 1LT William P. (Bill) Wedeking. Served as section Sergeant in LMG (Light Machine Gun) Platoon in command of four (4) squads consisting of 4 machine guns.
October 5, 1944 ~ In midst of 72-day battle, suffered under barrage of mortar fire and subsequently KIA near railway station in area called “The Island,” in village of Opheusden, Holland, when German forces had overrun the company line.
Garland and the 506th PIR jumped into the area of Son, Holland, behind enemy lines on September 17, 1944, as part of the Operation Market-Garden assault. Within a day, Eindhoven had been liberated, the targeted bridges had been secured, and the 506th and 3rd BN, along with various other paratrooper, infantry and engineer battalion forces, went about the business of marching toward Arnhem. Along with the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Airborne was attached to British command forces as they continued their mission. They were engaged in costly fighting for over 70 days in this campaign along what became known as “Hell’s Highway,” securing various small villages and towns along the way. During the period of October 3-5, 1944, Garland and his BN were attached in support of “H” Company; their unit was hit particularly hard here in the area called “The Island,” surrounded by the Rhine (Neder Rijn) and Waal Rivers, in the town of Opheusden. Garland and his LMG platoon were engaged in fierce combat in the field near the railroad station, where Garland, along with several of his buddies, were lost on October 5th, 1944. Older and more mature than most of the guys with whom he fought, Garland was 25 when he died, seven weeks away from his 26th birthday, making the supreme sacrifice fighting until the end.
Fellow LMG buddies from his unit, PVT Darvin Lee and CPL Andrew T. Bryan Jr., were next to Garland when he took mortar fire, and they witnessed his death. They helped to prepare his body for graves registration officers who were to follow behind them. They retrieved a Luger pistol, a war ‘souvenir’ that Garland had on his person, prior to leaving him, hoping to be able to turn it over to a member of Garland’s family at some point in the future. Amazingly, Garland’s older brother, M-SGT Grady A. Collier, met up with Darvin Lee when the 506th had returned from Holland to Mourmelon, France, and Darvin was able to hand the Luger over Garland’s brother and tell him the story of Garland’s death in Opheusden. Darvin Lee survived the war, married the girl whom he met in England, and still lives today in Oregon. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to Darvin a couple of times, and he’s been able to provide me with the details of Garland’s last few hours. When I first spoke to him, he mentioned that he did not realize that Garland hadn’t been buried until he made his first trip years later to Margraten, and saw Garland’s name on the Tablets of the Missing.
In researching Garland’s service during the past few years, I have been privileged to establish correspondence with then-1LT William P. Wedeking, Garland’s jumpmaster on the drop into Holland and his immediate commander. Bill survived the war, served as a career Army man, saw more action in the Korean theatre (where he was wounded), retired as a Captain and now lives in North Carolina. He has been a tremendous source of information regarding the 3rd BN 506 and Garland’s unit as it operated before and after D-Day and during Operation Marketgarden up until Garland’s death. Other 101st Airborne veterans with whom I’ve been privileged to speak are George Koskimaki and Fred Bahlau. Although George and Fred were not in Garland’s specific unit or company, they were inspirations and provided great direction in research efforts. In tracking down another buddy of Garland’s, Thomas Bucher, a fellow LMG in the HQ-3-506, I was able to exchange a few emails with him over the course of a couple of years prior to his recent death. Tom recalled what a great guy Garland was “always smiling, always in control of whatever our task was…you can tell ‘Tex’s’ family that I was proud to serve with him.”
Shortly after Garland’s death on the battlefield, it was reported that Baptist services were conducted in his honor prior to his burial in an American military cemetery, This information was based on correspondence sent to Garland’s family from Col Robert F. Sink, Commanding Officer, 506th PIR, and on specific details in his U.S. Army IDPF (“Individual Deceased Personnel File”). However, Garland’s actual gravesite or resting place was obviously never properly identified. Thus, there was never an opportunity for his remains to be returned to his family in Texas. There is much speculation as to what actually happened to Garland’s remains, but as of this date, the truth remains a mystery. His brother Grady initiated Army investigations into efforts to locate his remains after the war’s end, but official Army correspondence based on their accumulated records, reports and subsequent investigations ultimately deemed Garland’s remains as “non-recoverable.” His family still continues to work with various organizations both here and in The Netherlands in the continued search for Garland’s remains, including the US Department of Defense’s JPAC (Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command) posted at Hickam AFB, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. JPAC has an open, active case file on Garland and continues to be alert to any connections that may be established from their various team investigations, research studies and digs in that area of Europe. The search continues for his remains, and we hold out hope that one day, he can be returned home.
Garland is memorialized on the “Tablets of the Missing” in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, The Netherlands. A family memorial was erected in his honor in the White Chapel Community Cemetery, Coleman, Texas, between the graves of his parents. He is memorialized at the World War II Memorial, Washington, DC. He is also honored on a memorial placque, erected in 1999, in Opheusden, in The Netherlands.
British author and former paratrooper Ian Gardner, whose help has been immeasurable, has been kind enough to include brief mention of Garland in his and Roger Day’s first book, Tonight We Die as Men, the story of the 3rd BN 506th PIR. More of Garland’s experience in Operation Market Garden is recounted in Ian’s recently published sequel Deliver Us from Darkness. I appreciate Ian’s friendship and encouragement. The association with Dutch friends who have provided such loving care and tributes to Garland the past few years is treasured. Our family remains grateful to the vigilant efforts of Ronald Stassen, Thijs Van Der List, and others, as well as to former Marine Mark Chernek, for their respect and dedication in watching over Garland at his Margraten memorial.
Story written by Judy Gamble, great niece of Garland Collier, June 2012
All photographs on these pages are provided, courtesy of the Collier/Gamble family.
Photo: The inscription on the “wall of the missing” at Margraten war cemetery the Netherlands.