A Marine has passed, but his words live on
Dick Graves didn’t talk about his service in World War II for more than 50 years after coming back from the Pacific in 1945.
After compiling his remembrances at the behest of his family in 2000, he didn’t talk about it again.
But Graves, who passed away on October 12, 2011, left his family a detailed account, which they shared with the Times Observer.
Graves was born February 22, 1921, at a residence on Thompson Hill Road in Russell before moving to a house on Water Street in Warren.
“I really enjoyed Water Street,” he wrote. “We had a big yard and a big tree in back with a rope on the limb with a tire tied to the rope for a swing. I spent a lot of time on that swing and we had other kids to play with.”
But his parents divorced and he never saw his father after the divorce.
“Mom had remarried (when Dick was 8 or 9) and I had to go live with her (and) my step-dad and I couldn’t hit it off and just about twice a day he would beat me with the lines and Mom didn’t dare side with my so I just had to grin and bear it,” he wrote.
Time didn’t improve the relationship.
“One day I did something that really ticked him off,” he wrote. “He grabbed me and knocked me down and beat me with a tug off of a harness. When he let me up, I went to the house and got no sympathy from Mom so I took off and walked over to Grandad’s.”
And with his grandparents he stayed.
“He sat down and cradled me in his arms and cried like a baby,” Dick wrote of his grandfather, Asa Stanton. “That was the first time I ever saw a grown man cry……. He said no, that I would live with him from then on. That I didn’t have to go over there anymore. I wonder if Grandad knew how good that made me feel. I had a happy life with Grandad. He was good to me.”
Living with his grandfather, young Dick flourished in his work with horses. So much so that he quit school around the eighth grade and immediately went to work skidding logs and hauling them with a team of horses.
“I started my education right then and there,” he wrote, “and for two weeks straight he would tell me that I wouldn’t amount to anything and would dig ditch for a living… I drove team skidding logs and learned more than I ever would have learned in school. I was doing what I wanted to do and learned it well.”
“I only worked wood in the winter th(e)n work for farmers when it came spring and I could always find a job somewhere if I went looking. I didn’t have to look long. I spent two winters cutting wood for Grandad to sell. It was a job and that (was) what I was looking for…. The farmers all knew me and knew how I worked. Most any of them would hire me if I was available. I worked for nearly every farmer in Farmington Township at one time or another and wherever I worked they would give me the team to take care of.”
After spending parts of three additional years working on a swing scaffold on jobs in New Jersey and Cleveland, Ohio, Uncle Sam called.
Graves was originally drafted into the service “so I was to take a physical to go and I failed the exam.”
“They said I had a rupture,” he wrote, possibly a hernia.
Graves was 4F which, according to the Selective Service System, meant that he was unfit for service.
He tried to go back to work where he was before but “the boss was altogether different towards me… Finally, he said ‘If Uncle Sam don’t want you, I don’t either.’ So I was out of a job.”
Graves went back to a grocery store job he had worked over the winter, only to receive the same message.
“I was between a rock and a hard place,” he wrote. “I was in Cleveland and no work and couldn’t get a job anywhere so I went to the draft board and told them I was taking off.”
His trip found Graves in Oakland, California, where he stayed for about eight months, working doing dishes in a restaurant.
But he got homesick and came home shortly after Christmas, 1943.
“I was (a) happy camper when I got home, believe me,” he wrote.
His trip did not dampen his desire to get into the service.
“I… kept going to the draft board trying to get into the service and they told me I was 4F and could never get in,” he wrote.
Then he got some interesting advice.
“My cousin came home on leave,” he wrote. “He told me not to do it that way. He said to go to the draft board and ask for a deferment, and really insist on it. They would fight me every way they could to get me in. Well, I did that and, thirty days later, I was not only in the service, but in the Marine Corps, the hardest outfit to get into.”
He enlisted on April 17, 1944, according to his discharge papers, “to serve duration.”
After 13 weeks of basic training at Camp Pendleton in California that included Graves receiving rifle sharpshooter qualification, “they shipped me to the south Pacific,” he wrote. “We were floating reserves for the boys on Palau, but they secured the island and didn’t need us so we shipped to the rest camp at Pavuvu Island.”
That’s where he was, for the first time, confronted with what the war would entail.
Pavuvu Island doubled as a rest camp for the First Division of Marines and Graves wrote “It’s was there I saw what the war did to boys in combat.”
Graves spent “seven or eight months” on the island, working as a cook and baker.
But just because there was no combat doesn’t mean there was peace.
“We had a Marine that went berserk on the island and was out to kill all of us,” he said. “He had come to the galley where I worked and wanted food. We fed him and told the mess officer about it. He said that (he was the one) that went berserk and the orders were to kill him on sight. He never came back to our galley for food. After that, I don’t think any of us would have killed him but about a week after that we heard someone did kill him. That is what the service does for a fellow. If you let it, you would do most anything and you wouldn’t dream of doing it outside of the service.”
By then, the fighting had shifted to Okinawa, and to Okinawa Graves went.
“They took us ashore… with very little opposition,” he wrote. “The Japs were all down on the other end of the island.”
Graves continued his work as a baker and cook.
“Well, the line kept moving and we moved with it,” he wrote. “We got to about the middle of the island and set up a field kitchen and the boys could come back for a cooked meal.”
But as casualties mounted, more men were needed at the front.
“The way they picked the ones to go, they would tell the cook to do something. If he refused, they would tell him to pack his gear, he was headed for the line.”
That was Graves’ ticket to the front.
After refusing to pick up cigarettes at the behest of an officer, before the officer could even get the words out, Graves wrote “I told him my gear was packed and I was ready to go. I felt left out staying on the line, and I was thrilled to have the chance to go.”
And he was thrown right into the middle of combat.
“We were starting into the area where a couple of days ago before the front had taken Sugar Loaf Hill, and they hadn’t cleaned the areas…. We knew we were almost there. We could smell it. We talked through this area. There were 2,200 dead Japs scattered on the hillside. I thought I could hold my breath and get by them but we walked for a good hour and it was the same thing.
“We weren’t to fire our rifles, it would give away our positions…. It no doubt saved our lives… I stood up in my foxhole and a fellow hollered at me to get down. They were shooting at me. I felt a jerk on my jacket and the sniper had hit me in the jacket pocket. I looked down and saw a dark stain running down my leg. I knew I was hit but I didn’t fell a thing. After I could get into a place where I could see, that sniper had hit an iodine bottle in my pocket.”
Little did he know that his time in combat would soon come to an end, abruptly when he was wounded by an Allied mortar shell on Okinawa on May 31, 1945.
After getting out of the hospital and returning to the states, Graves was transferred to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before moving to Bainbridge, Maryland.
“After I got so I could walk better, they shipped me to Quantico, Virginia where I went back to duty,” he wrote. “They put me in the bakery because I was listed as a baker on my records…. I wanted to learn as much as I could in the bakery because I thought maybe I would do that when I got out.”
He was honorably discharged at the rank of corporal on April 30, 1946 and received a Purple Heart, Honorable Service lapel button, Marine Corps discharge button and Presidential Testimonial as well as the Good Conduct Metal.
When he was back in Russell on leave before his discharge, he met an old friend he had known since he was a kid Violet Anne.
“She and I got along as if we had always gone together,” he wrote. “We were together every time I got leave to come home which wasn’t very often…. I made up my mind that Anne was the one, so I asked her to marry and she agreed to that idea.”
After the birth of five children, Karen, Lynn, Ray, Robin and Lanny, who died at just two years old, Graves wrote “we thought we were going to make it until Anne got sick and I lost her in about a year of suffering. She had cancer and here I was (with) four kids to raise, two of them in diapers.
“Karen was 16 and Lynn was 12 when their mother passed away. Without them, I couldn’t have got through that.”
Working at Sylvania at the time, Graves would go to work the night shift, rushed home to get the older children off to school, worked around the house watching the youngest children during school hours and sleeping while the older children watched the younger ones in the evening.
“I don’t know how I made it,” he wrote. “So I did the best I could. I had got just about to the end of my rope when Millie came into my life.”
Dick and Millie were married in 1959 and were married 53 years until Dick passed away.
“I owe her my life,” he wrote. “I think I couldn’t have gone on another year the way I was going. We were married and for the life of me I don’t know why she decided on coming to rescue me.”
The couple had three children, Randy, Rebecca and Renna.
“I give her a lot of credit,” he wrote of Millie. “There isn’t many that would have took on that job.”
“I have many, many grandkids and great-grandkids and I love them all as much as I can,” he wrote. “They are scattered all over the country… I don’t get to see them as much as I would like but I can’t have everything.
“I have almost everything. I am happy with my little brood.”
Graves retired from Sylvania but also operated a doughnut shop, worked at National Forge and drove school bus for 40 years, in addition to a host of other jobs he held throughout his life.
A strong work ethic transcends his entire story.
“They knew they would get their money’s worth but that is the way I have always worked,” he wrote in retrospect of the people who hired him. “I worked hard and played hard but it has paid off in the long run… I have never wanted for a job.”