My grandfather was one the most important people in my life, especially growing up with only my mom after dad left us. He was a stunningly impressive person.
He was a certified master carpenter. He’d built at least 5 houses pretty much by himself, the last when he was in his 60s. He was a pretty good shade tree mechanic. He drove a 1967 Mustang convertible that he bought in 1985. He drove it until his death in 2002. He personally replaced the rack and pinion, rebuilt the engine, and brakes.
He wasn’t just a grunt though. He was extremely well-educated for only having graduated high school. He read all the history he could get and not a little philosophy, archeology, theology, and most of the classics. He had a very good collection of classics bound in leather.
He took a Texas history class at the local community college and was disgusted when he didn’t learn anything he already knew. He was the only person in the class to make an ‘A’. In fact, he only missed on question on any assignment or test in the entire class and he showed me the book that said his answer was, if not 100% correct, was still valid.
He also took a college algebra course at that same school to help me when I was having difficulty in Algebra II in high school. He was like that. He helped everyone and not just giving them things, but in ways that were actually meaningful.
When he retired in the late 80s, he decided he wanted a dog. So he went out and bought himself a pure German Shepard pup. Him and that dog went everywhere to together. It was a good dog, dumbest Shepard I’d ever seen, but a good dog. The dog went to jail three times for defending my granddad and grandmother. Every time, the police said, no, that’s what the dog was supposed to do. They only did it for rabies.
But today is all about military service. My grandfather was born in 1922. We don’t actually know when he was born… his birth certificate has ‘ju’ for the month of birth. But he was a young man when it was time to go to war. He joined the army. He was training to be a train engineer before the army, so he went into engineering there. He became a combat engineer.
Upon reaching the rank of sergeant, he was transferred to California and then sent for overseas duty, which in his case, wasn’t really overseas. He was sent to the only place in the United States of America that was invaded in WWII… the small island of Attu in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.
During the actual fighting, his unit was attacked by Japanese and my grandfather led his squad in a flanking maneuver that caught them completely off guard and rolled them up, saving the headquarters unit from being overrun. He was wounded by a small piece of shrapnel in his ankle in the fighting. For this work, he got the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. *
He returned to the states after this and, having been wounded in ‘overseas’ combat, he was pretty much ineligible to be sent overseas again. Which meant (thankfully for me) no Pacific Theatre island hopping or invasions of France.
However, he wasn’t able to leave the army because his wound was very minor, and though it pained him slightly in the winter** it was never considered a disabling wound (until he got out of service and into the care of the VA).
The local personnel office asked him what he wanted to transfer to since he couldn’t be in the combat engineers anymore. He said “Whatever gets me the most pay and let’s my wife and daughter come with me.” They did some thinking and the end result is that my granddad became a drill sergeant and paratrooper instructor at Ft. Benning Georgia.***
He had great stories to tell about his time there.
One of these days, I’ll get the pictures of him I have up on the internet. It’s worth it to see what it was like.
I love my grandfather very much. I miss him very, very much.
My only true regret in life is that he never got to meet his great-grandson, whom he would have loved dearly. I will say that my son’s middle name was taken from my grandfather. Gray, is my son’s middle name… for G. Ray.
*Interestingly (in a really weird coincidence), it turns out that my grandfather was on Attu in the army at the same time a certain Lt. Francis was on Attu setting up a radio station for the Navy. This Lt. was the father of my mother’s second husband (who himself retired as a Commander in the US Navy).
** Of course, this is the guy who would do a root canal without Novocaine or other drugs. “Just an aspirin, thanks.” He was TOUGH!
***In another really odd coincidence, my granddad was an instructor at Ft. Benning at the same time as a guy named Launarey was there for training. I worked with Launarey’s son for a couple of years.