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An American hero worth remembering

by Sandra Grady

With the coming of Memorial Day, I’m reminded of my father, Lawrence Wesley Grady, a man who deserves to be remembered. As a child, I remember him driving our car as I sat behind him in the back seat.  From there I could lean forward and touch with fascination the two dime-size scars on his neck, one on each side. I had a vague idea what had caused them, but it would be years later, as an adult, before I would fully realize the pain and sacrifice his scars actually represented.

My father was 26 when he was drafted. He served with an infantry unit in the Philippines during World War II. He had been in combat for five weeks on the island of Mindanao when on May 26, 1945, his unit was advancing through a coconut plantation. They failed to see a well-concealed “spider hole” containing a single Japanese sniper.

The sniper waited until my father and the others had passed by before he took aim at my father and fired. But an instant before he pulled the trigger, my father suddenly raised his head to look at something. The bullet, instead of striking him in the head, struck him in the neck, passing clear through and damaging his spine.

He awoke days later on a hospital ship where he had undergone surgery. He had no feeling in his legs and was told he would never walk again. He did not, however, accept this diagnosis, and he made up his mind to beat the odds. Months of therapy followed, and he never gave up. Then little by little, he improved. Finally he prevailed, his battle won, and he could walk.

My father’s is an American story of sacrifice for his country. Born in Waterloo, Iowa in 1918, he traveled to California, initially to visit his aunt and uncle, Sadie and Fred Miller, owners of Miller’s Cleaners on Indian Hill Boulevard in Claremont.

My father liked it here so much that he soon left Iowa for good, ultimately settling in Claremont in 1944 with his wife, Shirley, and me, Sandra, not yet a year old at the time. We lived in a small house behind Miller’s Cleaners, a house that now is home to a violin repair business. My brother, Charles, was born a few months later, just before our father went to war.

Following the war and my father’s painful recovery, he became a master carpenter and cabinet maker, and his fine work can be seen in homes and businesses all over Claremont and surrounding communities.

He even found time to pursue some hobbies—gold mining near Quartzite, Arizona and restoring old cars and John Deere tractors. But I remember him often rubbing his neck, having never fully recovered from the war, in pain every day of his life.

Despite his pain, however, my father lived a good and fruitful life, loved and respected by all who knew him. In 1998, at the age of 79, he passed away in Claremont, melanoma having accomplished what the sniper’s bullet had failed to do 53 years earlier. He was buried beneath a magnificent sycamore tree in Oak Park Cemetery. Besides my mother, brother and me, he left behind five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and enough fond memories to last us all a lifetime.

We, as Americans, need to remember our heroes, and my father was one of them.

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