Capri Connection: Fred Garvin's WW II stories captivate

Ann Hall

What are the chances of folks living in a small island community ever have an opportunity to meet a dedicated war hero who was on the destroyer escort credited with assisting in the sinking of Hitler’s U-869 German submarine?

Fred Garvin enlisted in the Navy because he did not want to be drafted into the Army.

Fred Garvin, age 18, entered the Navy during World War II.

“I made up my mind that I wanted to be a part of this and fight for my country,” said Garvin.

“The one thing I knew going into this was that we were going to win; this enemy had to be stopped from doing wrong, and we were going to stop them no matter what it took,” Garvin said emphatically.

Garvin joined the service with his parent’s consent just two days before his 18th birthday. Garvin’s father was the chief engineer at a lathe works and taught him to run a lathe. Working on engines became natural to him. He was assigned the duty of operating the two 750 horse power engines on the starboard side of his ship.

“Someone else operated the two on the port-side,” said Garvin. He explained that his duties required him to be able to trace every single line of pipe aboard his ship from stem to stern, and get it embedded in his mind so firmly, as well as on paper, so that if they were to be hit he would know what to do immediately to get the engines operational again.

Fred Garvin today shares his World War II stories to the delight of young and old alike.

Moving to Naples just one year ago, Garvin found his way to the Isles of Capri Christian Church.  In the course of the past year, Garvin has shared some of his war stories encountered as he “crossed the Atlantic 18 times (nine round trips)” on his ship. His new friends were enthralled with his accountings of time spent on the USS Koiner.

It is most appropriate that his story be shared this month as it was exactly 72 years ago on Feb. 11, 1945, that the U.S. Coast Guard-manned Howard D. Crow, a 306 foot long destroyer escort out of NYC Harbor embarked to join the convoy CU 58 to serve as protection from the German submarine attacks. During the mission there was a violent explosion that prompted the Crow to call for help. The USS Koiner answered the call.

Lieutenant Commander Judson of the Koiner ordered an attack, and three drops on the stationary target at the bottom of the sea brought oil to the surface, but no movement.  Both crews were disappointed in the call made by Judson when he classified the contact “non-sub.”

“The crews felt certain that they had hit something real,” said Garvin.

The USS Koiner DE – 331, ship on which Chief Fred Garvin was based is credited with assisting in the sinking of Hitler’s U-869 in World War II.

It was very reassuring when a group of Atlantic wreck-divers made an incredible discovery 46 years later. John Chatterton led the dive that uncovered the remains of Hitler’s Lost U-Boat just about 60 miles east of the New Jersey coast line. Chatterton recovered a tag that led to the confirmation of the sub as being the U-869 German submarine. The known location of the U-869 was four and a half miles from where the Crow and Koiner attacks had been. To make the case even stronger, when the miles and speed were calculated, it placed the location in which she sank on Feb. 11, 1945, the exact date of the Crow/Koiner attack.

The attack probably prevented the U-869 German sub from attacking a ship in the CU-58 convoy. Garvin still corresponds with one of the divers. The story is told in great detail in the best seller Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson. Finally, some 50 years later, the aging heroes were given the recognition they deserved. The USS Koiner Muster holds a reunion every year.

“We held our 27th in Galveston, Texas on Nov. 6 – 8, 2009,” said Garvin.

Earl Morse, an ex-medic is attributed with starting the Honors flight program. He began flying vets to D.C. so they could see their war memorials first-hand.

“Morse has flown hundreds, if not thousands of veterans to D.C.,” said Garvin, who was among those who were in attendance on an honor flight in 2007.

Garvin lost his wife and also his youngest son. He found his way to Naples to be close to his daughter Janet Hartman. He found other widowers who shared his pain. He took it upon himself to begin a support group at Capri Christian Church that replicates a program already well established in the church for widows, of which there are currently approximately 50.  He has begun with approximately five men and feels strongly that the group will continue to grow as folks are made more aware of the support and comfort they can bring to one another. The men meet the third Thursday of each month for lunch in a local restaurant.

Garvin seems to just get younger with age. He seems to have an abundance of energy.

“I stayed up and watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, then had breakfast afterwards in our clubhouse,” said Garvin. This is just one of the many examples that reflect his youthfulness.

During a recent conversation when I commented on how young he looks at the age of 91, he asked:  “Do you want to know how to live to be a hundred years old?”  “You make it to 99 and then be very careful,” he said with a twinkle in his eye and a sheepish grin on his face of zero wrinkles.

Garvin speaks to school children in the area. “My grandson, David Green, is an eighth grade math teacher; he got me started,” said Garvin. “I have shared my stories with mostly eighth graders, but this year I have also spoken to fifth graders in the Community School of Naples.

“I would be willing to speak to others if they are interested,” said Garvin. “I was glad to have served my country, and I would do it all over again if I had the chance,” said Garvin.

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