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Stories from three wars

Sgt. Charles E. Grant Sr. recalls his years in World War II, Korea and Vietnam

POSTED: November 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.
/For The Times

A photo of Sgt. Charles E. Grant Sr., taken when he was in his 30s, sits in Grant's home in Oakwood.

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OAKWOOD — A war story from Charles Grant Sr. could be just that.

He served in two, World War II and Vietnam, and right after the Korean War and relishes telling vivid, detail-filled stories about his military past.

On a recent, warm Sunday afternoon, surrounded by family in the living room of his home at the end of Main Street in Oakwood, he spun one tale after another.

Gripping the arms of his recliner, the 84-year-old recounted seeing Gen. George Patton and sitting under a bridge in Europe as German soldiers crossed overhead, as if those events took place last year, not 65-plus years ago.

Dates, names and places — he knew most of them.

His grown sons and daughter had heard the stories, occasionally prompting him for details they knew would provide a jolt of emotion, perhaps a burst of laughter.

And all this colorful history began in a dubious way, with Grant lying to a sergeant about his age to join the Army.

“He handed me a piece of paper and said, ‘Can you get your parents to verify that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, Daddy’s over here at the sheriff’s office,” Grant said.

His father couldn’t read or write.

“He put his X on (the paper), but he didn’t know what he was X-ing. I told him I was going to join the (Civilian Conservation Corps) — he knew that, but he thought I would be right there in Gainesville.”

Grant wanted to enlist, having taken a fancy to seeing his cousin, Ernest, dressed in a CCC uniform.

Also, having toiled on his parents’ farm in Forsyth County, “I was tired of plowing (behind) the jackass. I had looked at that old boy in the rear long enough.

“I had 25 acres of cotton I had to plow and I had to (plow them) with an 18-year-old mule.”

Grant began his military service at Fort Benning in 1940. He recalled training in Africa in June 1943.

“We hit Sicily the 10th day of July. I was on the first wave to get on the beach,” he said. “It took us 28 days to take Sicily. We sat at Palermo, Sicily, in a lemon orchard. Then, they loaded us on assault boats and we hit Italy.

“... We were out there fighting tanks with M-1 rifles and ... that sand was rolling on you. And you’d get in a gutter and tanks would run over you. We were on the beach for four days before we ever moved.”

Grant said he was sent out to “locate big artillery pieces the Germans were firing on us. We waded a creek — it wasn’t quite knee deep — and four of us were under this footbridge and this whole German company (was) crossing it.”

The group waded the creek for about two miles to get behind enemy lines.

The next morning, the group found a barn and tore away planks to build a fire. He fell asleep and after waking, discovered he had severe frostbite, likely from the creek’s chilly waters.

“I couldn’t even walk. They carried me ... to a waiting ambulance on the other side of a mountain,” Grant said.

He spent four months in a hospital in Africa.

Grant recalled seeing Patton, one of history’s most famous and colorful military leaders, in Sicily.

After much resistance, Allied tanks were able to climb a mountain, where they were firing rounds.

“(The tanks started to) back off to go ammo up and gas up.

“Here’s Patton in that shiny tank of his, and (he) asked that first tank, ‘Where are you going?’ Of course,

Patton was all the time cussing. ‘Turn ’em around. You pull them tanks right back up there. You ain’t leaving them doughboys. You get out of those tanks — trucks will bring you the ammunition.’”

Grant also spent time in Germany, France and Holland. He remembers returning to the U.S. on Oct. 15, 1945.

After the war, he joined the National Guard. He re-enlisted in 1953, just as the Korean War had ended.

“They gave us a $1,200 bonus. Boy, I was rich. I had money in each pocket,” he said.

Grant was first sent to Fort Lewis, Wash. He and his family recalled the five-day car trip to the base.

He ended up working security at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea.

Grant spent 15 months in Korea before returning to the U.S., where he was assigned to training recruits at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He ended up training his nephew there.

“The buses pull up ... and there’s my brother’s boy getting off,” he recalled.

The nephew, upon seeing Grant, threw up a hand and said, ‘Hey, Uncle Charles!’”

That didn’t sit well with Grant, who immediately crooked his finger at the youth and said, “Come here, come here.”

The nephew said, “What’s wrong?”

“Come here. You see this,” Grant said, pointing to the name badge on his uniform.

“Yeah,” the nephew said.

“That’s ‘Yeah, sir.’ That’s my last name. From now on, it’s Sgt. Grant to you. Do you understand?” Grant said, laughing at the memory.

Grant later spent five years, 1963-68, at Fort Knox in Kentucky. By this time, he had taken his family from base to base, but this was, his children agree, the best place they lived.

“We loved it,” said his daughter, Carolyn Richardson.

Then orders came down for Grant to go to a base in Anchorage, Alaska.

He talked with a master sergeant who had just completed a journey from there. “You’ve got a good two weeks of driving, if you’ve got children,” the officer told him.

“I went over to headquarters and I said, ‘Would it be possible that I can get these orders changed to Vietnam?’”

Grant got the order changed. In March of 1968, he headed for Southeast Asia.

By that time, one of his two sons, Jimmy, was training in the Air Force and would eventually head to Vietnam.

Grant served as a military policeman at Long Binh Jail, a stockade for U.S. military personnel, that hit the news in August 1968 when prisoners rioted. At the time, his son was stationed in Phu Cat, Vietnam.

Grant’s other son, Charles Grant Jr., served in the Navy but couldn’t go to Vietnam because he was Grant’s only remaining son living in the U.S.

“I wanted to go because they were over there,” he said, referring to Jimmy and his father.
When the elder Grant returned from Vietnam, the Army wanted to ship him to Fort Campbell in Kentucky, but Grant put up a fight.

He wanted to be stationed at Fort McPherson in East Point, south of Atlanta. “I (had) never been stationed close to home and it (was) only 50 miles from there to my wife (Alma’s) family.”

The Army gave him the Fort McPherson assignment, but Grant had to go anyway to Fort Campbell to retrieve his luggage, which had been shipped there.

“We got up there and (found) this was a pretty place — I wouldn’t have minded (going there),” he said.
He stayed at Fort McPherson until 1973, when he was discharged by the Army.

“They broke up the stockade (there) and I had been doing some carpentry work with some prisoners and parolees,” Grant said.

“The company commander — he got me to stay because I was dropping the ceiling in the barracks. He told me I was really needed.”

Grant’s moving days ended in 1973, when he and Alma settled in Oakwood. Charles Jr., who lived next door, told his father of the property, which he could buy for $6,000.

The house wasn’t in the best shape, but Grant Sr. was handy with a hammer and saw and he had his son’s help to rebuild. So, he went about setting up the place where he and Alma live today.

He and his family pointed to and talked about old pictures that fill Grant’s living room. A painting on one wall shows the elder Grant and his two sons in their military uniforms.

A Korean painter crafted the work for Jimmy while he was stationed at Phu Cat.

Jimmy talks about the painting with the same kind of pride he and his two siblings have as they talk about their father and his long history of serving the country.

The afternoon is finished and the siblings have to go their separate ways, exchanging hugs as they leave.
Jimmy and Charles Jr. said they experienced the same kind of tenderness years ago, when they left their father to enter the service.

Both recalled their father’s cracked voice as he said “I love you, son,” and they both remember being filled with such emotion that they could not look back when they said, “I love you, too.”

“You can’t look back,” Charles Jr. said. “If you do, you will never go.”



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