In Time: The Passing of First Sergeant Gordon Graves

999570_536476033087412_245543876_n

Today marks the passing of an age. First Sergeant Gordon Graves has made his last jump.  Top was a maker of men and heroes alike.  Although, he would be the first to deny his status in the pantheon of heroes, we troopers who knew and loved him scoff at the mere notion of his self-exclusion.

Top Graves, like the heroes in all ages was connected to the very same thread of existence. We paratroopers who served with him remain connected to the fiber and weave of this thread in an unbreakable link to the pantheon of world history. Before us, we followed. After us, others follow in the Airborne Brotherhood. The link to the past, present, and future is assured only as long as good men like Gordon Graves are remembered. This be the duty of the living.

I remember him as he was and not how he became when I saw him last a few weeks ago on a trip to Seabrook, Texas. I remain eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to see this fine man one last time before he passed. I know he knew that. Still, parting is such sweet sorrow.

1381632_221254431384320_478166965_n

In time, I know we will all meet in the old barracks on Carentan Road. We will hastily assemble in formation as the battery guidon snaps gently in a Carolina breeze born on the sweet scent of southern pines. First Sergeant Gordon Graves will be there sounding roll call: “Shaw?” he will call. “Airborne! First Sergeant!” I will reply. Reveille will sound in the darkness from Division Headquarters; and, we will snap to attention and turn and salute the flag. Afterwards we will meet at Green Ramp and fit out parachutes and jump on Sicily Drop Zone where Top will lead the way out the door on a cool and clear and crisp October day. We will live again in a world where things are made right and good.

We will meet again at Point Salines Airfield too, where the battle will rage on about us. We will act again with great intrepidity and with courage and relive those days before everything changed forever and innocence and the invulnerable prerogatives of youth were shattered forever. As the howitzers in the battery thunder our intentions defiantly, we will look at each other and smile and know that this is as it was in the old days. This was real.

Operation Urgent Fury, Grenada, October 1983—Part 1

 October 24, 1983

There I was watching Monday night football and getting my hair cut by Komstock our barracks barber. Komstock had this very robust laugh that reminded you of the comedic portrayal of a caricature of a Soviet officer. Heck, he even looks the part! I suppose this shouldn’t be such a far fetched thing considering that Comstock’s grandparents had emigrated to the United States from the Ukraine. As an added bonus, Comtock was a barber by profession before he entered the Army. He did a much better job than most of the barbers on post for a fraction of the cost. I mean, where else could a trooper get his haircut while watching football and drinking a beer?!

Times were good in Alpha Battery, 1/320th Airborne Field Artillery of the 82nd Airborne Division. We had just finished our annual Artep (Army Training Evaluation Program) and we had done extremely well. However, something was up and we could all sense it. The Marine Barracks in Beirut had been bombed the day before. Our unit was part of the Division Ready Brigade and there was a sense of urgency in the air. There was also a great deal of increased traffic on post. Something was going to happen–we knew it, but when?

 It is hard to describe life in the 82nd Airborne Division to the uninitiated. It is part of the United States Army but it is in many respects an army unto itself. I suppose you could say that the division has its own identity, traditions, and history separate and unique in many respects to the rest of the Army. As paratroopers we prided ourselves on our training and our mission to be anywhere in the world within eighteen hours.

I remember being across Ardenne’s road many months before I had been transferred to A battery at the barber there and one of the older African-American barbers said to one of the other barbers while pointing across the road to the Division area, “Them boys across the road pray for a war every day.” I would say that this gentleman was most certainly correct in his pronouncement but I also suspect he did not have the first clue why he was right. Life in Division was a constant series of training exercises one after another. Many of us troopers prayed for a war, but, only to bring an end to the monotony of the training! In an elite unit like the 82nd Airborne they kept us wound tight so as to keep us ready to fight at a moment’s notice.

The CQ (Charge of Quarters) knocked on the door. The time had come to put it all to the test! Fall out with full combat issue! We did not find out for several more hours where we were going, most of us assumed then it would be Lebanon.

First Sergeant Graves, myself and several troopers were picked from Alpha Battery to fill in manpower shortages for Charlie Battery. We were the support elements for the 325th Infantry of the Second Brigade. It was only later on that evening that we were to be briefed on the mission objective. It would not be Lebanon, it would be the Caribbean Island of Grenada. I had only heard about the situation on Grenada a few weeks before when one of my good friends, Tom Ramirez, who was with the Headquarters Battery Survey section showed me a copy of his Newsweek just before he was to ETS out of Division. Tom was always keen to keep up on the latest news and happenings. He remarks that this was an area that we ought to watch out for. I remember the article showing a Russian engineer advisor who was helping the Grenadians and Cubans build the 10,000 foot airstrip on the island. Meh! He hardly looked like a threat in his unbuttoned shirt exposing his enormous belly holding a beer I thought!

Things had changed however. A few days before the Prime Minister of Grenada, his wife and several cabinet ministers and many supporters had been massacred. The communist-controlled government that took over then did what would be perhaps the stupidest thing imaginable. They declared a 24 hour shoot on sight curfew on the island. This was all the excuse that President Ronald Reagan needed. There were several hundred American medical students on the island. The memory of the Iran Hostage Crisis was still a recent memory for most Americans. President Reagan was determined to not see a repeat of this. If in the process of rescuing the students we just happened to restore democratic government to the island, so be it!

 This would be the first test of the United States Armed forces since the Vietnam War. The name of the mission was to be Operation Urgent Fury. It was a lovely un-politically correct and decidedly old school name!!!

Hardcore Harry