Salutes & Awards

June 15, 2012

Journey to Purple Heart spans decades

by Stephen Delgado
Thunderbolt staff writer

Col. Robert Webb, 56th Fighter Wing vice commander, presents a Purple Heart medal to Carlyle Gardner at his home in Mesa, Ariz., June 13, 2012. Gardner was a B-17G Flying Fortress flight engineer and gunner during World War II. His aircraft was attacked and crash landed in Belgium, where he was captured by German soldiers and spent just under a year as a prisoner of war.

There is an old saying, “It’s better late than never.” After 67 years, World War II veteran Army Staff Sgt. Carlyle Gardner, who served almost three years in the war, was presented a Purple Heart and POW medal by 56th Fighter Wing leadership.

He survived an 86-day, 488-mile forced march that began Feb. 6, 1945, at Stalag Luft IV prisoner-of-war camp near Grosstychew, Poland, and ended in Halle, Germany, April 26, 1945. The long ordeal involved 9,500 men, who for the most part were U. S. Army Air Force Bomber Command NCOs.

Gardner’s journey in life began Aug. 23, 1923, in Bear River City, Utah, near the Great Salt Lake. After graduating high school in 1941, he moved to Los Angeles and worked for Douglas Aircraft. Gardner enlisted in the Army Air Corps Jan. 22, 1943. After completing basic training, he attended airplane and engine mechanic school in Glendale, Calif., followed by aerial gunnery school, Laredo, Texas.

He was on a bombing mission May 29, 1944, to Leipzig, Germany, in a B-17G. His aircraft was attacked by German fighter planes and crash landed in Ville de Gembloux, Belgium.

Gardner and his crewmates were captured by German soldiers and interrogated. The enlisted crew members were incarcerated in a new prison camp called Stalag Luft IV.

As February 1945 approached, the end was in sight for the Third Reich as Soviets closed in from the east and Americans and British from the west. Developments in the east caused the German high command to evacuate Stalag Luft IV and move the POWs to Germany, thus the long and perilous 86-day march began. They were finally liberated by the Dorset Guards of the British Army May 2, at the Elbe River. Gardner said his weight reduced from 182 pounds when the march began to 118 pounds when he was liberated.

He was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant Oct. 25, 1945.

Much can be learned about Gardner’s life from what hangs on the walls in his home. They are adorned with certificates, photos and memorabilia of his military and war experience, educational degrees and artwork he has painted throughout the years. There are three framed items that stand out.

“As we were being liberated, a German guard handed me his belt and bayonet and then fled,” he said. “I saved my eating utensils, which were made of aluminum, and eventually framed them. When the Dorset Guards freed us, I traded a jacket to get some of the items they wore.”

However, the moment etched in his memory most is when a German soldier opened the door of a barn they were staying in and announced to the prisoners, “Your comrades are here.”

Those comrades were the British, who brought the POWs their freedom and the end to what seemed like an endless march.

Gardner wasted no time in getting his life on a path to success. He married the former Audrey Anderson in 1946 and had three children.

They were married in Minneapolis and while there he earned a fine arts degree and graduated in 1952 from the University of Minnesota. They soon moved to Phoenix where they both worked and retired.

As the decades have passed, certain events and stories have not been forgotten. Audrey said her favorite story from her husband’s experience involved a couple of older women in a small town.

“It was getting dark on a cold and wet day, and the two women approached me,” Gardner said. “As one of them bumped me, she placed a loaf of freshly baked bread into my pocket. If the guards had seen her, she would have been shot. It was the first time I had fresh bread in years. Audrey has remained deeply touched by this experience.”

The Congressional record of a Senate proceeding commemorating the 50th anniversary of the forced march of American prisoners-of-war from Stalag Luft IV states the following:

“These men who suffered through incredible hardships on the march, yet survived, stand as an everlasting testimonial to the triumph of the American spirit over immeasurable adversity and of the indomitable ability of camaraderie, teamwork and fortitude to overcome brutality, horrible conditions and human suffering.”

With a twinkle in his eye, Gardner said he reminds his grandson that he has a hell of a tradition to maintain.

All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.



Thunderbolt of the Week – July 27, 2012

Airman 1st Class David Owsianka 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Public Affairs Specialist Hometown: Bradenton, Fla. Years in service: Two Family: Mom, dad, two brothers, two nephews and a niece Education: 19 credits away from ...

MXG announces awards

The following individual or units are quarterly best-of-the-best award winners:   Foreign object debris prevention program Individual: Senior Airman Thang Huyhn, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Flightline: 425th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Backshop: 56th Maintenance Operations Squadron FOD poster: Staff Sgt. Troy Anderson, 56th EMS   Quality assurance TAMS: 308th AMU Specialist: 62n...

Thunderbolt of the Week – July 20, 2012

Staff Sgt. Alton Wingate 56th Component Maintenance Squadron PMEL journeyman Hometown: San Diego Years in service: Six Education: Community College of the Air Force degree in electrical systems technology Previous assignments: ...


MSgt selects announced

The following technical sergeants were selected for promotion to master sergeant:   Kristina O’Meara, 56th Medical Operations Squadron Michael Perry, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron      

Luke officer saves drowning victim

Capt. Andrew Hoeffler, 56th Medical Group family nurse practitioner, Ashawnis Guidry, 5, and Staff Sgt. Christopher Guidry, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron pavement and construction equipment operator, pose for a photo near the Ba...

Thunderbolt of the Week – July 13, 2012

Airman 1st Class Taylor LeBlanc 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Optometry Apprentice   Hometown: Beaumont, Calif. Years in service: One Family: Mom, dad, five brothers and sisters Inspirations: My father, Maj. Jason LeBla...


Be the first to comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>