All Write, Columns, War Bonds

Diminished by their loss, bolstered by their legacy

On a chilly November afternoon, I said goodbye to another veteran featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

James Loer died on Oct. 17. His wife, Helen, preceded him in death four years earlier.

Just as I’d done at her service, I read their chapter “From Sailor to Preacher” at his funeral.

The author at James Loer’s funeral, November 2020.

Theirs was a simple story of plain people who worked hard and served every community they lived in with quiet devotion. As James said in our first interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”

Indeed, romantic might be too flowery a word to describe their lifelong bond. They married in 1948 in a small ceremony at the home of their pastor while James was attending Bible school.

He’d felt called to the ministry after surviving several harrowing skirmishes when he served in the Navy during World War II. The 13 battle stars on the cap he always wore told more of story than James liked to discuss.

During his funeral, the pastor, used a flag, a hammer, a Bible, and a seed to tell James’ story. The flag for the country he loved, the hammer for the work he did as a carpenter, the Bible for the God he served and the seed that represented his farmer’s heart, as well as all that he’d sown into lives during his many years as a pastor.

At 96, James Billy Loer had lived a full, rich life, and longed to be reunited with his bride.

And then, on the first day of the New Year, another “War Bonds” reunion took place.

Zelma Garinger joined her beloved husband of 65 years, David, who passed away in 2014, before “War Bonds” was published.

Unlike James Loer, David Garinger was an avowed romantic.

In fact, this is how he described the first time he kissed Zelma on Valentine’s Day 1947.

“I had my arm around Zelma, sitting close. I smelled her sweetness. Her dark shining hair and sparkling blue eyes worked their magic on me. Our lips met for the very first time … it seemed so right. Truly she was my Valentine.”

David had served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and after returning home and marrying Zelma, he became a pastor, and later a master carpenter and contractor. He loved art, music, poetry and most of all, Zelma. Each morning, he’d deliver a cup of coffee to her bedside.

The years without him had been long. Zelma had chronic respiratory issues and suffered with chronic back pain, but she still made it to a reading of “War Bonds” at the South Hill Library in 2015.

Zelma Garinger with the author, 2015

After Zelma’s death, her daughter, Janice, wrote me a beautiful letter, sharing memories of her mom.

Zelma had returned to college and earned a teaching degree when Becky, her youngest daughter was little.

Janice wrote, “During hard times teaching children of migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, she shared with us that all her efforts were worth it if she could make a difference in the life of even one child. She was always more than just their teacher. She prayed for them and quietly reached out when there was need. Many books and supplies were personally purchased to enrich her students.

We vividly remember a tiny first-grader who was rescued many nights from her alcoholic mother, then put to bed in our parents’ home, so she could attend school the next day.”

Reading Janice’s memories of Zelma and hearing the pastor speak of James Loer’s life of service at his funeral, brought home just how much we lose as a society when another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us.

The lives they led filled with hard work, hope, courage and sacrifice are simply irreplaceable. We would do well to honor their memories by following the examples they set.

I think the inscription on James’ headstone beautifully sums up both he and Zelma’s lives.

“Life’s work well done.”

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