Larue Barnes: So much to learn
Garrett was born in Bethany, W.V., on Christmas Day in 1923 — the same day
his great-grandmother celebrated her 96th birthday.
From the beginning, family has been the center of his life.
“I was the oldest of four children,” he said. “Our father, Ralph W.
Garrett, was a college professor, and our mother, Lella, was an
accomplished art teacher. I felt at a very early age that they had hopes
that I would become a minister.”
He admitted that such a choice could not be made by a parent for a child.
The family lived in Bethany until he was 11. He loved to read and sensed
that he was very good at it.
“I read Harvard classics when I was quite young and thought I understood
them. Later, I saw that I didn’t grasp their full meaning. I was sick a
lot as a child and missed a great deal of school. I got behind in math and
never seemed to catch up.”
When the family moved to Cisco, Ralph played basketball and softball, but
“My mother wouldn’t let me. She was afraid I would get injured, and we
didn’t have the money to pay a doctor.”
He recalled getting into trouble at school only once, when he was paddled
for eating a worm in front of girls and upsetting them.
His father suffered from asthma and his health got worse. Suspecting that
he might have tuberculosis, he isolated himself upstairs in their home.
Ralph became the man of the house.
“I guess that’s when I began to learn how to do things with my hands. My
mother had taught me from an early age how to appreciate art and create
things. I remember making linoleum block-cut prints on Christmas cards.
Now I had to take real responsibility. When I was 13, we made plans to
move to my maternal grandparents’ farm in Indiana. I knew we had to have a
trailer to move our things, so I went to work to make one.
“When it came time to think about the cover for the wagon, I drove Mother
to the general store — I had my driver’s license — where we bought some
metal wagon sideboard pockets designed to hold wagon bows — like a
Conestoga wagon. Then, I measured and my mother sewed a canvas cover.”
He said they knew it would have to be waterproofed, so they mixed hot
paraffin into gasoline and kept it in near-boiling water to keep it
liquefied while painting it onto the canvas.
“The gasoline evaporated and we had a cover that would be protected from
the rain. I drove most of the way on the trip.”
He has memories of spending time in New York City while his father worked
on his doctorate at Columbia University. The Smithsonian Institute in
Washington, D.C., fascinated him. There was so much to see, study and
His freshman and sophomore years in high school were spent at Franklin
High School, where he made the first team in softball and basketball.
In 1939, the family moved to Fort Worth, where Ralph’s father joined the
faculty as a history professor at Texas Christian University. Ralph
attended Paschal High School.
“It was great for me. I made first team again in softball and basketball.
I became friends with the children of very influential Fort Worth citizens
— the Leonards, the Bairds, the Edwards.
“While I was in high school I worked at Leonard Bros. as a grocery sacker.
I carried groceries out to cars, making 11 cents an hour. After a 10-hour
day, I took home $1.10 and thought I was rich. You worked all day on a
farm for 50 cents back then.”
After graduation from Paschal High in 1941, Garrett enrolled in TCU.
“While I was there I had the opportunity to attend a national seminar as a
business administration student, and was chosen sheriff of TCU’s Ranch
Week, leading a downtown parade with the Tarrant County Sheriff.”
After one semester, he took a 532-class-hour mechanical drafting course at
Technical High School taught by an engineer at Convair. He was employed by
Texas Electric as a draftsman, but another kind of draft called him into
World War II.
He and other draftees reported to the bus station in Fort Worth to be
transported to Camp Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells.
“I was assigned to Camp Wallace, a coast artillery base near Texas City. I
finished basic training and was being trained as chief of section on 40 mm
anti-aircraft artillery. I decided I would rather fly than walk and
received permission from the commanding officer to take an Air Corps cadet
Garrett passed the test and was sent to Central Washington College of
Education where he took many classes and learned to fly in primary
training. At Santa Anna Air Force Base he said he “washed out” as only 20
percent of the cadets were chosen for further training.
“At Lowry Field near Denver a general order was issued that all personnel
from the ground forces not actively in pilot training would be returned to
the ground forces. I was shipped to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., a replacement
While assigned to the 106th Infantry Division in training at
Camp Atterbury, Ind., he found himself near
relatives, including his brother, who was running their parents’ farm.
“I was assigned to Headquarters Company 424
Regiment, on kitchen patrol my first day there. I had a talk with
the mess sergeant and told him I could cook. He got it OK’d by my
commanding officer, and I was in.”
He grinned, “Cooks had the best deal in the company: three days on duty,
two days off, and a permanent Class A pass with a semi-private room.”
Garrett had no idea he would soon drop his pots and pans and shoot a
bazooka from a foxhole.
They shipped out in Boston Harbor on one of the three largest English
ships — the Aquatania. Landing at Gourock, Scotland, Garrett went by train
to Banbury, England.
He found that preparing a Thanksgiving meal for troops was an enormous
“Our stoves wouldn’t handle all of the turkeys and pumpkin pies, so we
used a large community bakery during off hours after the English were
through with their work there.”
After shipping out of Liverpool in many small boats, the soldiers reached
a landing at Le Havre, France. Spending a rainy night in a large
waterlogged field, they were then loaded on trucks to go to the front
lines near St. Vith, Belgium.
Military history would be made there.
“I was unfortunate to be placed on an open truck, [one of only a few with
no cover]. Our barracks bags and all other gear were in trailers behind
the trucks. Everything got wet, then frozen, before we got there.”
The 422nd and the 423rd regiments were placed on the front lines while
Garrett’s 424th was behind in reserve.
“We had only been at the front for six days when the Germans broke through
the lines on Dec. 16, 1944. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest, most
deadly battle in the European theater. The 422nd and 423rd regiments were
all captured, wounded or killed.”
In “The History of the 106th Infantry Division” by Maj. Gen. Donald A.
Stroh, he wrote of Garrett’s regiment, “The 424th pulled back to St. Vith.
The Nazis were headed for St. Vith. There, cooks and clerks, truck drivers
and mechanics shouldered weapons and took to the foxholes.
“... The physical hardships endured, the constant exposure to rain, sleet
and snow in freezing temperatures and on terrain over which it was
considered impossible to wage effective warfare, have, so far as I know,
rarely if ever been demanded of soldiers of any nations.”
In an International News Service “News of the Day,” Pfc. Ralph Garrett was
written up as a survivor of the 106th Division’s massacre.
It read, “Pfc. Garrett was a cook in Headquarters
Company in the 424th Infantry, 106th Division and was surrounded [by
Nazis] for eight days at St. Vith, before being relieved by the U.S. 7th
Army. Garrett had frozen feet, one of only 800 soldiers out of 14,000 in
the division who escaped death, injury or being taken prisoner.”
The Battle of the Bulge was the last major German offensive battle on the
Western front in World War II.
Garrett was awarded the Bronze Star with three battle stars and was
offered an opportunity to attend Officer Candidate School, but chose to be
discharged and came home Dec. 20, 1945.
By Jan. 1, 1946, he was happily working on his family’s Hood County farm.
Housing there was primitive — but luxurious compared to a foxhole.
“The farm was historical in that it was originally a land grant awarded to
Elizabeth Crockett. I raised 900 turkeys there — killed and dressed them —
delivered them. I delivered one to some friends in Fort Worth. Their
daughter, Gloria Echols, was home from Lawton, Okla., where she was
executive director of Camp Fire Girls. On our first date I learned that
she had graduated from TSCW [now Texas Women’s University] and had been
editor of the annual her senior year and had majored in journalism.
“Gloria had spent her summers during college as counselor at YWCA camps at
Wimberly. She was outdoor-oriented and adventurous. She would fit on a
farm — or anywhere.”
That was Thanksgiving 1950. After their marriage on March 4, 1951, Gloria
moved onto the Hood County ranch with a pioneer spirit. They lived there
for six months with no modern conveniences. Ralph soon established his own
drafting service and they bought a farm at Sand Flat.
By 1956, Ralph and Gloria and their three little girls, Judy, Jill and
Sybil, enjoyed country living. Gloria taught at Friendship School for two
Then disaster struck. They lost everything when their home burned.
“Well, not everything,” he explained with a grin. “We were okay and we
still had our land — plus, we still had the diapers on the line.”
They bought a home on North Robinson Street in Cleburne. In 1959, Gloria
began teaching at Adams Elementary School, (to retire in 1986.) Ralph
studied real estate appraisal and real estate construction management at
TCU’s night school, and studied real estate law at the University of Texas
“I purchased old homes and remodeled them for 20 years. My parents bought
some and carried the notes with all profits, interest, etc., going into an
education trust fun for their grandchildren. The most I had at one time
was 11 — I did 95 percent of the remodeling work by myself.”
Ralph bought houses from the state highway department when they were
clearing land for freeways. They were moved to lots he had purchased.
“My main real estate appraisal clients were Texas Power & Light, Johnson
County for farm-to-market [road] right-of-way, Employee Transfer Corp. for
Santa Fe Railroad employee transfer purposes and district-court assigned
After being certified to teach drafting by East Texas State University,
Garrett was drafting, architectural and mechanical drawing instructor at
Cleburne High School’s Career Center from 1977 through 1984, taking many
students to state competition.
“The last year I taught only a half-day, just so that the juniors I had
instructed the year before could finish the course their senior year. I
didn’t retire — I’ve never retired from anything.”
In 1984, he drew plans for a new country home where their first one had
burned. Ralph and his son Ralph Jr., who needed an internship for his
Texas State Technical Institute building construction major, built a new
one — by themselves.
He became interested in rock work and did that until his shop burned in
Garrett gave up his real estate license in 1992. Always eager to read,
observe and learn, he became intrigued with pictographs, images painted on
rocks and cave walls, and petroglyph sites, where images are incised in
rock, usually by prehistoric people, as he and Gloria began traveling in
New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
“I was fascinated with everything related to various American Indian
cultures. While looking through a Time-Life book with pictures of antique
kachinas, carved wooden spirit dolls, I told myself I could do that. I
bought several books about them and about kachina carvers, and I was
Garrett said he has carved 28 kachinas so far, always from cottonwood root
wood. He joined the Texas Woodcarving Guild in 1995 and began to take
lessons at every opportunity. He looks forward to the third week of August
to go to Santa Fe, N.M., to view Indian artwork at a prestigious juried
“I’ve always wanted to learn all of the many types of woodcarving. I’ve
converted part of my garage as a carving sanctuary and invite anyone
interested to attend each Wednesday from 9 to noon. I have many carving
patterns — all of which I have carved so that I am able to furnish a
‘go-by’ to anyone. I teach only if I am asked and am able to suggest
easier or better methods and techniques from time to time. I’ve studied
with many outstanding instructors. I expect I’ve done at least 130
carvings in my lifetime.”
Garrett was diagnosed with diabetes 46 years ago. Recently fitted with an
insulin pump that automatically takes the place of multiple insulin shots
a day, he insists the disease has never slowed him down — even making
outdoor excursions to sites inaccessible by helicopter. Self-disciplined,
he has continuously studied about his condition and its treatment.
Garrett is a member of Cleburne Wood Chippers and the Johnson County Art
Guild. Recently some of his carved landscapes were on display at the
Layland Museum. He and Gloria have four children: Judy McMahon of Cameron,
Jill Goodgion of Cleburne, Sybil Fisher of Flint, and Ralph Garrett Jr. of
Burleson. There are 11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
From the time he was 13, Garrett knew he could build. A rugged outdoorsman
who enjoys poignant poetry readings, he thinks deeply. One wonders: Of all
his interests and accomplishments, what one thing has brought him the most
Without hesitation he smiled and said, “Children and grandchildren.”
Family is still most important.
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Barnes, Cleburne Times-Review - Cleburne,TX,USA