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Remembering David H. “Dave” Garwood

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Locally famous US Army veteran passed away this morning in Wellsville

By Andrew Harris

The bad news arrived early this morning, one of the most colorful characters in the history of Wellsville passed away after a heart attack. Very few who know Wellsville, didn’t at least recognize Dave on the street or have some interaction with him. I personally knew Dave for about 28 years, a decade of which we spent every day together at Better Days. We both really enjoyed the party and it often got wild.

A Wellsville High School Class of 1968 graduate, Dave was a football star, the Homecoming King, and the drummer in the band. The all-American boy growing up and thriving in a small town.

Immediately after graduation, Dave was drafted into the US Army and sent to Vietnam. I will recount the day in that war which proved to be formative for Dave, as he recounted the events to me dozens of times.

Dave was in an infantry unit, your average US Army platoon who found themselves in the middle of Vietnam during the height of the war. One day his unit went out on patrol and the sergeant ordered Dave to “walk point,” meaning the first guy in the formation, charged with watching for traps and enemies. It was always with much guilt and a heavy heart when Dave explained that he led his platoon into an ambush.

From the best he could recall, he was one of the only survivors of the attack and was knocked unconscious. When he woke up his most vivid memory was of his battle buddy, mortally wounded and seeking Dave’s comfort. A medivac helicopter loaded Dave and survivors for treatment and the next thing Dave recounted was life recovering on a Navy medical ship.

Images from his longtime friend Shannon Wiech and friend Devon Reagan:

That was the end of Spec 4 David Garwood’s combat tour and by his accounting, spent the remainder of his time in Vietnam partying very hearty. He returned to Wellsville in the early 1970’s, hoping to restart the idyllic life he enjoyed before the war. It wasn’t meant to be.

Always a party guy, the excess of the 1970’s found him and delivered more tragedy to his life. At a crazy party one night, someone passed Dave an ‘orange peel,’ or a slice of citrus that had been been soaked in LSD. Typically, you took a little nibble, passed it on and waited for the trip to start. For whatever reason, Dave ate the entire slice of acid-laced fruit.

He had no recollection of what happened after that, but woke up in a mental hospital. Dave spent the next 17 years or so in mental institutions, mostly the notorious Gowanda State Mental Hospital south of Buffalo. I’ve heard many stories from Dave about his institutionalization, none of which need repeating. The abuse he suffered from the staff and other patients was unspeakable, the horrors of Gowanda are well documented. That facility was abruptly closed down during the Reagan administration, releasing Dave and others into society.

The trauma of war, one bad trip, and surviving the hell of Gowanda sentenced Dave to a life of mental illness and robbed him of any chance at regaining normalcy. When I met Dave in about 1994, he was well known for hitchhiking and his eccentric behavior around town. His parents still lived on the Andover Road and he’d hitch back and forth to town every day, sometimes twice per day. As a young driver, it was too much temptation not to pull over and give him a ride. After that, I always picked Dave up, sometimes I’d take him back home, sometimes we’d drive around listening to music.

That led to many years of friendship. When I operated Better Days(2001-2012,) Dave became a fixture in the pub. He befriended many off the staff members and customers, and rarely missed a live music event. It was demanded that he be treated well and respected for his military service. The community responded and many who were leery of his wild character, took a second look and became good friends. In all the tributes I have read today, that is one of the most common themes: Once you gave Dave a chance he surprised you with his intelligence, humor, and kindness. Somehow, after all the hell he lived through, he was protective and kind, especially of his favorite ladies. You can see in this little photo gallery by his long-time love Hilary Briggs, that Dave cared for his friends and family.

The first image is of Dave with is brothers, Lon(center), and Kevin. He talked about Gerry often and was proud of his family.

Dave was a fashion lover, one day he’d be dressed up like Joan Jett, the next day like David Bowie, and the next like an outlaw gunslinger. He loved Matchbox 20, and his favorite song of all time was “Superhero,’ so let’s end with those lyrics:

Well, I wonder what it’s like to be the rainmaker
I wonder what it’s like to know that I made the rain
I’d store it in boxes with little yellow tags on every one
And you can come and see them when I’m
Done, when I’m done I wonder what it’s like to be a superhero

I wonder where I’d go if I could fly around downtown, yeah
From some other planet, I’d get this funky high on a yellow sun
Boy, I bet my friends will all be
Stunned, they’re stunned Yeah, yeah

Straight up, what did you hope to learn about here?
If I were someone else, would this all fall apart?
Strange, where were you when we started this gig?
I wish the real world would just stop hassling me
Do you? Do you? and me

Well, I wonder what it’s like to be the head honcho
I wonder what I’d do if they all did just what I said (just what I said)
Well, I’d shout out an order, “I think we’re out of this, man, get me some”
Boy, don’t make me wanna change my Tone, my tone

Straight up, what did you hope to learn about here?
If I were someone else, would this all fall apart?
Strange, where were you when we started this gig?
I wish the real world would just stop hassling me

Please don’t change, please don’t break
Well, the only thing that seems to work at all is you
Please don’t change at all
From me to you
And you, to me, yeah, yeah Yeah, yeah

Straight up, what did you hope to learn about here?
If I were someone else, would this all just fall apart?
Strange, where were you when we started this gig?
I wish the real world would just stop hassling me
I wish the real world would just stop hassling me
I wish the real world would just stop hassling me
A you, and me

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