By Carolyn Barbre
Local veteran Bill Newton Gardner had earned 11 bronze stars by the time he was discharged from the Navy at the age of 22 on Dec. 27, 1945 as a Seaman 2nd Class.
Gardner passed away on Oct. 1 at the age of 81. His last official residence was in Lindsay. He had been planning on dying for at least a decade. He had purchased a space in the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, Nev. when he lived in that state. But since he died in California, County Administrator Joel Smee said to be buried in Nevada would require the purchase of a burial permit.
Gardner had also purchased a pre need funeral plan at a mortuary in a country south of here in 1993, but terminated the plan in 2000 according to Smee. While the country administrator was finding these things out, the veteran’s body was kept in the Heritage Mortuary in Visalia for four weeks.
Jack Keally of Lindsay seemed to be Gardner’s only friend. He had plannedd to have the body cremated, but the mortuary said those decisions needed to be made by relatives or thorught the country administrator. The country charges $750 for probate Keally said. He said Gardner had $1,600 in the bank. the rest of his estate, which he left with Keally, consisted of a briefcase containg some documents and family phots.
However, no one was able to locate any relatives, not Gardner or Keally of Smee.
In fact Bill Gardner came to Lindsay thinking to establish contact with a niece that reportedly lived in Strathmore. Keally befriended the veteran and got him to set up in the Mt. Whitney. When Gardner’s physical condition declined so that he was unable to care for himself Keally assisted in getting him into Lindsay Gardens. He even got his own doctor, Dr. Ginsberg, to take on the patient.
“He considered me his advocate and his best friend. I talked to the doctors and the Veterans Administration and the Country Administrator trying to get the poor man buried,” Keally said.
Keally also tried t locate the niece, but was unsuccessful. And he had is stepson surfing the Internet trying to locate Gardner’s only child, Vicky, who reportedly lived in the Bay Area. An acrimonious divorce in 1975 had apparently severed any tiest o his daughter and his fomer spouse, June.
The county administrator said they had tried, and did find a Vicky Gardner in san Jose, but she was not related to the deceased. “The estate does not have money to pursue location the decendent’s daughter and former spouse [any further],” Smee said.
Keally said he had broached the subject of how Gardner wanted to be buried. ” I mentioned it to him, but he was so sick he said, “Jack you take care of it, whatever you want to do.” Obvioulsy it doesn’t work that way. Smee said only the next of kin or surving spose can make provisions for the decease if they have failed do so before dying. Otherwise the probate code requires the public administrator to make arrangements. Smee, a civil attorney who has hired into the district attorney’s office, said Tulare County is unique in having the county adminstrator ass part of the DA’s office, possibly because of budget constricitons.
Keally was able to take his friend, a conservation Catholic, to mass, on of his first requests, he said. And the Keallys and Gardner over for Thanksgiving last year. “I enjoyed his company, enjoyed talking with him. He never said much about the military, but that was his whole life.”
Gardner had brought along a book about his ship, the U.S.S San Francisco to the dinner Despite the horrors of war, these were also glory days. The book is reminisscent of high school year book. The U.S.S Sa Francisco sank three destroyers and a heavy cruiser, and assisted in sinking or damaging five other enemy ships. It particpated in 17 major engagements and operations. “We consider it likely that no ship of the fleet can top this record,” it says in the book. Battles include Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Marshall islands, capute of Saipan and Guam, battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Iwo Jima operation to mention some of the more recognizable engagements.
Gardner told Jack that he had become a brick mason and then a cement contractor and was able to buy a nice home in San Jose on the G.I. Bill. He lost his home in the divorce settlement, and reportedly Gardner’s exwife didn’t keep up the note.
A discharge letter from the Navy had advised Gardner to affiliate with on of the nationally recognized veteran organizations. He became a member of VFW Post 5948 in Tehachapi. But according to Keally, Gardner hated war. “He thought Bush going into Iraq was a big mistake. He had seen a lot of war and he said, “Jack, I know what’s involved. The guy is taking on the whole world!”’
Keally had asked teh Gazette to do a story on Gardner earlier this year. They idea was filed under Future stories: Veterans Day/Bill Gardner-Mt. WHitney. Keally called again to say Gardner was at Lindsay Gardens and “really dying.” It seemed intrusive to try to interview someone on deaths’s door.
Then he called and said Gardner died Oct. 1.
“I just think he should be honored. I admire his service to his country,” Keally said. He said Gardner made him think about his oldest brother who was killed in Korea, as well as several other siblings who had served in various wars up to and including Vietnam.
He sifted thorugh his papers and photos but there wasn’t much there. Bill Gardner was born in Kellyville, Creek Country, Okla to Elijah Gardner and Bessie Shackford on March 9, 1922.
He will be interred in the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Merced County, in the community of Gustine somethime this week. Heritage Mortuary said last Thursday that they were going to cremate the body adn ship teh ashes to the cemetery. There will be no formal burial ceremony.
“I’m very appreciative to all these people who took care of him, the LIndsay Garden nurse and the nurses at Sierra View,” Keally said.
“We will simply ahng onto the few personal effects untill suck time as we get a lead on the former spouse,” said Smee.