By Mary Ann Ellis
Born on Oct. 30, 1924, Grady Deen of Appling County recently celebrated his 96th birthday with his family with a low-county boil. Most of his four children, nine grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren were there. He lives at Deen’s Landing on the Altahama River, only a couple of miles from the old home place where he grew up on West River Road. Regrettably, the old house is no longer there. After he graduated from high school, he went to Virginia to work. Not quite 18 years old, he went to the draft board and volunteered to serve.
“They told me they’d take me in a couple of months,” he laughed. “In my youth and innocence, I thought fighting the war sounded like fun. Boy, I had a lot to learn. It wasn’t so much fun. All the boys and young men were excited because we were pitted against one cause to save the country democracy. We had neighbors that drove to Brunswick every day to work in a shipyard for the war effort. It’s not that way anymore. We weren’t divided back then; no political lines had been drawn.”
When they took Grady in as promised, he went to bootcamp and then was put on a bus in Atlanta with his fellow soldiers for Bainbridge, Maryland, for destroyer training. He was assigned to a destroyer escort in Boston a bit later and given a little training before leaving for the Pacific. While they were training, they encountered a terrible storm that washed the gun shield off the number one gun - the anti-aircraft gun. The ship took a real beating and had to return to Boston for repairs. During that two weeks, the men were given leave before returning to the ship and heading through the Canal Zone to San Francisco.
“Our mission was to escort ships of all sizes,” Grady said. “The escort ships had less firepower and could maneuver better because they were smaller. We tried to knock out submarines before they could get to our big ships. We escorted all kinds of ships. Once we got to Hawaii, we mostly picked up baby carriers taking supplies to the invasions’ task force. Guarding the ships taking supplies to the invasions was our main mission, not to see what we could do with the enemy. We had a good force. Other escorts like us abounded, and we were lucky enough not to lose a ship or a single person from our ship. We saw the invasion of the Marshall Islands. Japan took them, and we had to take them back. We were offshore from those islands; they couldn’t get us because the subs would shell the beaches.”
Grady remembers wearing dog tags with his name and serial number on them and points out that the military doesn’t use that method of identification anymore. They now put an ID directly on the body for identification. Grady was a gunner’s mate. He had to clean and shoot the gun. The battleships shelled the beaches. Hitting the islands one by one was effective. Guam was the capital, but there were several other islands as well. The islands that belonged to Japan were returned to Japan after the war. Destroyers and destroyer escorts had pretty heavy fire power. Each island had airbases. All the brand new B29s were flying off the islands to bomb Japan.
“It was a long way, but they didn’t mess around,” Grady said.
After WWII was over and won, Grady stayed in the reserves. He was called back up for the Korean War. This time he was in the Atlantic training other sailors.
“I liked the Pacific Ocean,” Grady commented. “All I ever found in the Atlantic was stormy weather. On board ship, we just did our jobs and didn’t complain about them. We grumbled a little about the food - beans and coffee and potatoes. Once we had to eat C-rations for about a week. That was not so good. We did have canned stuff though, which I ate a lot of. We didn’t starve. About 140 sailors lived together on a small ship; they did a variety of jobs. There were electricians, range finders, signalmen, gunners’ mates and we all got along well in that tight space.”
They had an officer who kept a record on everything unusual that happened - he recorded it all. Grady knew nothing about that at the time. He didn’t notice the little things. If it scared him a little bit, he remembered it. And then, the war ended; Armistice Day arrived.
Still in the active reserves, he was called back in 1951. He stayed in another fourteen months until the Korean War was over.
“I would do it again,” Grady said, “because all other young people were going. My daddy told me I could get a deferral to help him farm, but I wanted to do my part for my country.”
One guy on the ship wanted to go home and griped about it all the time once they had left San Francisco after the ship had been repaired. About 90 miles out, the unhappy man jumped overboard into a calm glassy ocean. He was about 90 miles from San Francisco and 2000 from Hawaii, but he intended to swim home. They launched a boat to save him but had no brig to lock him in. Their ships had no brigs because they didn’t pick up Japanese, even if they were in the ocean. Finally, they welded him into the large potato bin in the galley until they could get him back to the states. They sent him home with a dishonorable discharge. He had his faults, but he was a good gambler. Grady used to keep his money for him because he trusted Grady more than he did the others. It was only about forty dollars, but every week he’d come ask for some of it to gamble with. Sometimes he’d lose it, but mostly he’d win a little more and bring it to Grady to keep.
Grady says that the real battles, the ones that played the biggest part in winning the war, were fought by the marines on land. The navy could hit the battle ships and pound them. Planes went in ahead of them and cleared the way. They did the dirty work ahead of Grady’s ship which was protecting the supplies. Together they defeated the enemy.
“My son thinks I’m a hero,” Grady said. “I’m not. I was just doing my job like everybody else.”