About a year ago, a woman stopped Glen Marler inside City Market and asked, “Do you remember when you hired me?”
Marler had to disappoint her and admit he didn’t. You have to forgive him for two reasons: One, he hired quite a few people during his days at the grocery store. Two, and here’s the kicker: He had retired from City Market a quarter-century ago.
Durango’s not quite the tiny bucolic town it was when Marler and his family moved here from Grand Junction in 1954. But the incident showed there’s some small-town charm that remains.
Although Marler couldn’t recall the woman, this man who recently turned 90 hasn’t forgotten much. He recalls a lot of things, some good, some bad. He remembers, for instance: moving west from Kentucky, the day he took the job in Durango and before that, 70 years ago, watching bodies floating off Utah Beach at Normandy.
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Glen Marler was born in little Quail, Kentucky, (good luck finding it on a modern map) on July 6, 1924. His parents were farmers, raising tobacco as a cash crop.
After high school, he moved to Cincinnati for work, and that’s where the U.S. Army swept him up to help in the war effort. He was at Camp Myles Standish in Boston in spring 1944, expecting soon to utilize his training.
“One day, a train pulled up, and they loaded us on the train,” he recalls during an interview at his home of nearly 60 years. “The next thing we knew, we were at port.”
Next, they were on the USS Argentina heading across the Atlantic Ocean, and 11 days later in Glascow, Scotland. It was April 1944. German forces controlled the French coast, and the Allies were massing for an attack. Marler had to be secretive in letters to home he sent from “somewhere in England.”
“We knew that they were preparing for the invasion, of course,” he says, and if you listen closely you can still hear a little Kentucky in his voice.
How and when the attack was coming, however, was a mystery.
Marler doesn’t have a lot of World War II memorabilia left. He gave away some of his Nazi loot to a young collector. But he springs up out of his chair and easily finds his uniform with the bronze arrowhead and the three stars given for the campaigns he was involved in. The arrowhead signifies he was there on D-Day.
On June 6, 1944 – D-Day – Marler was thankful not to be in the first wave. But he was there, offshore, in a large troop ship, waiting to land at Utah Beach.
“You could see the fireworks,” he says of the constant gunfire and bombing, “and the dead guys in the water.”
It was a week before he actually set foot on Utah Beach. Soldiers dug foxholes, and he remembers the Army making sure everyone had a mattress cover, so that if they died, there’d be something to wrap the corpse in.
His job, with the transportation corps associated with the 1st Engineers Specialist Brigade, was to back a truck onto a steep ramp coming off a supply ship. Ammunition was loaded onto the truck, and Marler would drive it several miles inland to a depot, hoping to avoid Germans along the way. At night, he’d drive slowly with “bug lights” that put out little illumination and made him as invisible as possible.
By December, he was in northern France or Belgium, suffering through a miserably cold winter in his overcoat and his mummy bag that “wasn’t worth much.”
“If you could find something you could burn, you could build a fire,” he says. “You’ve never seen anything cold like that. A lot of people froze their feet.”
He was in Reims, France, when the war in Europe ended May 8, 1945. He sweated out the possibility of being shipped to the Pacific Theater to fight Japan but instead got to go home without further incident when the U.S. claimed victory over Japan in August.
After a brief stay in Kentucky, he took the train to Grand Junction, where his mother was living. That’s where he began his career in 1946 with City Market, which was just beginning to spread its wings.
City Market No. 6 opened in Durango in October 1950. Marler knows because he was there, having been sent there for a couple weeks – room at the Strater Hotel paid for – to set up the new store.
Four years later in Grand Junction, one of the City Market founders, Leo Prinster, asked Marler to meet with him in his Cadillac. It sounds sort of Mafia-like, but it was innocent enough: Prinster wanted Marler to be assistant manager at the Durango store.
Marler, his wife, Ann, and two sons moved to Durango in October 1954, and Glen Marler never left. He’s still in the same house.
Back then, City Market, and most other stores, stayed open only until about 6 or 7 p.m. and was closed Sundays. If you lived in Durango before 1986, there’s a good chance Marler approved one of your checks, or maybe you saw him at Burns Bank making the daily deposit.
South City Market moved to its current location in December 1986, just before Marler retired on Jan. 3, 1987. It seems so long ago, but maybe it wasn’t: The retirement watch they gave him for 41 years’ service to City Market still runs.
His wife of nearly 65 years, Ann, died a year ago. These days he keeps busy by dog-sitting, going for short walks and visits from family. A couple dozen photographs of relatives, framed and loose, decorate his wall and bookcase. He has one son, Rodney, in Grand Junction, four grandkids and four great-grandchildren.
“We all keep him pretty busy,” says Deb Marler, who was married to Glen’s son Chris before he died in a dirt-bike accident in 2004. “He’s a very generous man. A lot of us couldn’t have made it as far as we did without ‘Gramps.’ He’s the easy guy to love.”
Like a lot of folks from “The Greatest Generation,” Marler didn’t talk too much about his past, about surviving the Great Depression and World War II. Probably a lot of people worked with him for decades and had no idea where he was June 6, 1944:
Utah Beach on one of civilization’s deadliest days.
email@example.com. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.