In November, I had the honor of meeting 92-year-old World War II veteran George Grant. Richard Adams, born along what is now Dunwoody Club Drive in 1933, introduced me to his friend George Grant of Hollywood, Ga. Grant shared his experiences in Italy during the final months of the war.
George Grant turned 18 on July 4, 1944 and was drafted soon after. Grant recalls his journey, “I went to Atlanta’s Fort McPherson for induction, then Camp Blanding in Florida for advanced training. The war was really raging; the Battle of the Bulge was ongoing. President Eisenhower was commander of all the forces.”
His next destination was Virginia Beach in late December 1944. George Grant was in the 692nd Tank Destroyer Battalion, part of the Fifth Army. The 692nd traveled to North Africa to deliver supplies and then moved on to Italy.
In Italy, their destination was Salerno, where the Allies had invaded September of 1943. Next, his division went to Eboli, where a Displaced Persons Camp was located. The 692nd TD Battalion then continued to the Volturno Valley where they camped on Mussolini’s dairy farm. Grant describes the instructions he and the other soldiers received, “Pick a mud hole and get in a slit trench. Next day boys, we will show you what you are training for.” Grant remembers it was the coldest day of January 1945.
He recalls a memorable day in Italy, “I was walking down the road one Sunday in Eboli, I got way down in the country. I looked down there and here comes a whole battalion of Italian soldiers. They were in full dress and I didn’t know hardly what to do. I didn’t want to run. See, they were our enemies at first. I had two pistols and I checked them. They divided, half on one side of the road, half on the other. I said well this is going to be a test of me I guess, but I had my side arms on. They called them to attention and they all saluted me, so I walked on. I returned the salute and I walked on and they walked on the other way. I had some great experiences over there.”
The 692nd Tank Division operated M10 tank destroyers, a new tank that was used in the final months of World War II. Grant drove the M10, which held seven soldiers. “That’s what we trained to do, knock out any target that was a threat to the foot soldiers which were coming through the Apennine Mountains,” adds Grant.
His division then traveled to Leghorn, near the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There were no lights and no bathrooms there and the soldiers slept on the ground. Next, they moved across Italy through Urbino, near the Adriatic Sea and the Po River.
“That’s where our targets were, that’s where we went to combat. On the day President Roosevelt died, I was on my way to the front.” Grant’s division spent about a month on a potato field along the Po River. One of the provisions was canned horse meat. He recalls trading canned horse meat for three dozen eggs. He dug up potatoes, scrambled the eggs in his helmet liner and cooked a delicious meal out in that field.
Grant continues, “Then the war ended there, the Germans gave up on the 8th of May. We drove back to Leghorn and turned in our tanks.” They traveled by train to Rome for some rest. In Rome, they stayed in the Palazzo dell’Aeronautica, where the Italian Air Force had been. Grant describes the building, “It was lavish, stone, you wouldn’t believe how lavish.”
His division was about to head to the Pacific, when the war ended there. Grant remembers well the day he was watching the Andrews Sisters perform in Italy and Patty Andrews made the announcement that the war was over.
George Grant’s brother, J. C. Grant, was one of seventy thousand soldiers who were captured at the Bataan Peninsula and forced to march sixty-five miles, known as the Bataan Death March. He escaped but was recaptured and forced to work in coal mines and silver mines, sleeping on a concrete floor in below freezing temperatures. His captors only gave him a handful of rice to eat twice a day. When he was caught stealing a cabbage out of the commander’s garden with hopes of making soup for his fellow soldiers, he was beaten. J. C. Grant only weighed 80 pounds when he finally made it to a hospital.
Cecil L. T. (Ted) Grant, George Grant’s other brother, served in India during the war, flying planes over the mountains. Cecil and J. C. Grant each spent 35 years in the military. Later, Ted attended Southern Mississippi University and served on the Board of the university.
Christmas of 1945 was a joyous occasion as George, J. C. and Ted Grant were reunited on Christmas Eve. George Grant explains the strain of war on parents, “I’ve said many times before the people that really suffer in the war was our parents, they suffered because their children were taken away or killed. They would put a star in the window, that meant you lost one, most everyone had a star in their window-at least one. There was a lot of boys killed.”
When Grant was reassigned following the war, he also became camp barber. Grant says an officer admired his neat clothing and haircut saying, “you see this man here, I want every one of you to look just like him.” Grant let it be known that he could barber and was asked to cut the hair of other soldiers for fifty cents per haircut. He used hand clippers and later electric clippers bought for him. Then, one day there was a mishap. “This boy had the prettiest hair I’d ever seen. I let the electric clippers get away and he had a white streak around his head. He cussed me every which way and he never come back.”
Grant’s father and family first came to this area of North Georgia in 1905, traveling on foot from Franklin, N.C., and bringing their cow on their journey.
Following the war, George Grant met his wife Letha (Lee) Leola Hale in Missouri. They married at the Kansas City, Mo., courthouse on March 22,1946, and were married 63 years until Lee passed away in 2009. “She was a great lady and a great mother to our four children. She didn’t try to rule them hard but would tell them what was right.” Lee Grant was proud of her husband’s achievements.
George Grant later worked for the government, investigating the damage of natural disasters across the country. He also worked in construction, building schools in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. He built several churches near his home town, including the Mount Bethel Church of God, which he pointed out on our local tour. His construction jobs include downtown Atlanta’s Varsity, Emory University’s Law School and the Clarkesville Mill in Clarkesville, Ga.
Mr. Grant keeps his mind sharp by reciting poetry. He can recite all fifty-seven lines of “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” by Robert W. Service and the Gettysburg Address.
He also enjoys advising young people in his community and meets them once a week at a local restaurant. A wealth of wisdom comes from his ninety-two years.
George Grant sums it up, “It’s been a trip and I’ve enjoyed it and I thank the Lord. I believe that’s where our strength is. I want to stay around as long as I can, help my kids and grandkids. Everybody pretty well needs the same thing.”