Charles W. "Gus" Garnham
Captain, United States Army
a contemporary press report: 3 April 2001
With his powerful and accurate arm, Charles W. "Gus" Garnham became a hometown hero when he led his high school football team to the City League football championship in 1935.
During World War II, the skills he'd honed as a quarterback at South Hills High would serve a deadlier purpose, enabling him to lob grenades with precision into machine gun nests of Nazis. Those efforts brought him a Distinguished Service Cross -- the nation's second-highest award for heroism -- and a wound that stiffened his right leg for the rest of his life.
Mr. Garnham, who lived in Carrick, Pennsylvania, and worked for more than 30 years for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, died of Alzheimer's disease Saturday in Country Meadows of South Hills, South Fayette. He was 83.
Mr. Garnham grew up in Mount Oliver, Pennsylvania. After graduating from high school in 1936, he worked as a machinist's helper at the Post-Gazette, where his father, the late Charles E. Garnham, was a printer. He remained there until June 1941, when he enlisted in the Army.
Mr. Garnham served in France and Italy. He was wounded for the first time when a machine gun bullet struck his helmet in December 1943. The next June, Mr. Garnham -- who by then held the rank of lieutenant -- was again wounded after he and his platoon were assigned to defeat German soldiers entrenched in the walled Italian city of Magliano.
For his actions on June 13, 1944, Mr. Garnham was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. According to his Army citation and news accounts, Mr. Garnham found the east and south walls of the city heavily guarded, so he and his troops instead sneaked to the rear, northern wall and used ladders to climb it and jump onto roofs inside the city.
Mr. Garnham, who was first to scale the wall, hurled a grenade into the nearest machine gun nest and destroyed it. When Nazis who survived the blast turned and charged, Mr. Garnham shot and killed two of them and wounded a third.
"During the furious gun fight that followed, he continued to effectively fire his carbine and throw hand grenades for several hours," his citation states. Mr. Garnham, who was seriously wounded in the leg and thigh, captured seven people who'd hidden in a building and was credited with enabling U.S. soldiers to capture the city.
After the war, Mr. Garnham returned to the Post-Gazette, where he worked for 27 years as a circulation route manager on the South Side.
Although his right leg remained stiff and sometimes painful as a result of his war wound, he seldom talked about his injury or the events that led to it.
He kept his medal, along with two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, in plain black boxes tucked in his dresser drawer. He supported veterans' organizations but didn't participate in parades or activities that would have highlighted his wartime service.
"He was very, very quiet about it," said his daughter, Cynthia Dilla of Brentwood. "As brave as I understand he was, that's how private he was about it. He truly was crippled after the war but he never let on or talked about what happened."
Mr. Garnham retired from the Post-Gazette in 1973, then spent every possible day playing golf at South Park.
When the weather here turned too cold for his beloved sport, he and his wife headed for courses in the South, his daughter said.
Only in the last days of his life, when his illness had overtaken his thoughts, did he finally begin to talk about the war, his injury and his memories.
"He fought the war out loud many, many times at the end when he was suffering from Alzheimer's," Dilla said. But by then, he was unable to answer the questions that the people who loved him would have liked to ask.
In addition to Dilla, Mr. Garnham is survived by his wife, Norma Jean Garnham of Carrick; daughter Claudia Goetz of San Francisco; brother Edward Garnham of Carnegie; and three grandchildren.
Burial will be April 13, 2001 in Arlington National Cemetery.
Posted: 10 April 2001 Updated: 5 March 2003 Updated: 14 February 2004 Updated: 23 August 2005