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Subase Pearl Harbor Det 716 

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PFC Ernest F. Grossiant

US Army

On March 11, 1919, a boy was born to William and Efie Grossiant in Greenly Colorado, their second child. The new addition to the family was named Ernest. Ernie's mother would later give birth to two more girls leaving Ernie the only boy in a family of four children.

Ernie, to all who knew him, grew up during difficult times and had a hard life as earnings were little during this era.  His father worked at farming and for a feed elevator company and only made $25.00 a week, not much to feed and clothe a family of six.

Marshfield_WI.pngIn 1932 the family moved to Marshfield, Wisconsin, where Ernie attended grade school.  Later he attended high school in Stratford, Wisconsin.  Because of the distance to his school and the hard winters with snow accumulating to several feet, transportation to and from school was impossible so he had to board in Stratford.  This meant an additional financial burden for the Grossaint Family.  He was really needed on the farm to help his father, but his parents wanted him to get an education.

Ernie did well in high school, but there was one subject he just couldn’t master, typing.  He tried to learn the skill, but just couldn’t master the keys or maintain much interest.  It made no sense to him and he said, “When am I going to use typing on the farm?”

One day while setting at the typewriter and struggling to force his fingers to strike the right keys his typing teacher, a male, came up behind him and grabbed his ears and twisted them as a punishment for his slow and poor progress.  Ernie, a tall lad and somewhat a scrappy, said, “I don’t know why I didn’t hit him”.  But he knew if he had, he would have only been in serious trouble with his dad. So he refrained from doing so.

Later he thought about dropping the course and taking something more suitable so he went to his typing teacher and asked him if he would give him a partial credit for the progress he had already made.  The teacher sourly replied, “I wouldn’t even give you the time of the day.”  Ernie again said, “I don’t know why I didn’t hit him”.  Instead Ernie decided to end his 10th grade and high school education and return to the farm where he felt he was needed.  His father and mother reluctantly accepted his decision. 

After the war broke out Ernie was drafted into the Army.  He could have requested a deferral since the War Department, as it was called back then before it was renamed the DOD, would grant deferrals to certain occupations, food providers (farming) one of them. But he opted to answer the call of duty instead so on 09 January 1942, Ernie reported for duty and was sent to basic training at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, in the north suburbs of Chicago.

Basic training at Ft. Sheridan was “short term training” during war years and only lasted a few days unlike today’s ten week course.

At the end of this training he was sent through basic training a second time.  Because the Army not being prepared for the war they found themselves in, the brass hadn’t figured what Ernie_Grossiant.JPGthey were going to do with the soldiers they were training.  So to give him something to do while a decision was being made they sent him to Camp Wallace, Texas, for a second basic training course on 17 January 1942.  Still not prepared to place him the Army sent him to a third basic training course at Camp Hulen, near Palacois, Texas, on 21 March 1942.  He was finally sent to Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on 27 June 1942 where he learned to fire anti-aircraft guns.

After three basic trainings and weapons training Ernie was billeted as an Anti- Aircraft Gunner and was to be sent to the war zone in Europe where he would spend the next 2 1/2 years in the European Campaign, starting with his initial landing in North Africa on 08 November 1942.  The European Campaign would find Ernie 2 1/2 years later in Nuremberg, Germany, victorious with those who were fortunate enough to survive the long bitter war.

The Army fought the Germans in North Africa and eventually drove them out.  Ernie’s unit then moved on to Sicily to fight the Germans there. 

While in Sicily, Ernie developed a temperature of 106°. The medic that took his temperature couldn’t believe it was that high so threw away a perfectly good thermometer because he thought it was defective.  The medic then took his temperature with a
new thermometer and had him sent to a British hospital after he came up with the same results.  While in the hospital Ernie needed to go the restroom and left his ward.  When he finished, he started back to his ward and was stopped by one of the other patients from his ward and told, “You don’t want to go in there.”  Ernie asked him why and was told, “General Patton is in the ward, and I just saw him slap a soldier and tell him to get back to the front”.  The soldier was in the hospital for battle fatigue which General Patton didn’t feel was a real medical concern.  When the general asked the soldier how he was, the soldier replied, “Just fine, Sir”.  This is when General Patton in an outrage slapped him which became a famous scene in the great George C. Scott portrayal of the General.

After his release from the hospital he continued to fight the Germans on Sicily with his unit which eventually drove them off the island.

His unit then deployed to the mainland of Italy where they started driving the Germans north and finally out of Italy altogether.  Ernie and his compatriots also fought the Germans on Sardinia freeing this Italian island, too.

They then moved into France where they fought in Corsica, Marseilles, Dijon, Nancy and Paris.

When Ernie wasn’t manning an anti-aircraft gun he loaded bombs into aircraft preparing them for the daily sorties against the Germans.  One evening, his crew was tasked with the job of loading several aircraft with bombs.  Unfortunately, there were more aircraft than men to load them which meant they could miss their deadline.  Each of the bombs weighed 1 ½ tons.  This was going to be a long hard job and they would be working into the early morning hours if not all night and even then they might not finish the job on time.  A member of the loading crew noticed a commander car with a winch on the front of it and someone got the idea of snatching it to aid them in loading the heavy bombs.  The crew went over by the commander car and stood in front of it talking and milling about while a couple of the guys busied themselves with unbolting the winch as others stood watch.  After they had it unbolted they continued to stand in front of the vehicle concealing the fact that the winch was no longer there and waited for the officers to come back to the vehicle.  The officers finally came out and got in their vehicle and backed out and drove off, leaving behind their winch which was lying on the ground where the “thieves” had left it.  That “requisitioned” winch made the job at hand a snap and soon all were free to return to their quarters and get some sleep.

Another incident where their cumshaw talents paid off was when Ernie noticed a truck with its bed covered with a heavy tarpaulin.   Realizing this would make a nice dry lean-to to sleep in and keep their equipment dry took out his knife and started cutting away the rope securing the tarp to the frame of the truck.  He then told his friend what he was doing andM2_.50_cal_Anti_Aircraft_Gun.jpg asked him to hold up one side of the tarp while he held the other and wait for the driver to start moving the truck.  As soon as the driver started to pull away they held up the tarp while the truck drove out from under it.  They found wire and secured it to something and draped the tarp over the wire and secured the sides to the ground leaving them a nice dry place for the six man gun crew to live.  Several others wanted the share their new quarters as there was enough room for six more people to sleep comfortably.  One of them was the duty truck driver who was allowed to move in because use of his truck could save the gun crew a lot of walking and carrying the heavy guns. Others who provided services that helped to make the gun crew members’ lives a little more bearable were also allowed to call the tarp their home.

These humorous antics bring to mind the movie “The Green Berets” when Peterson steals the corrugated tin from the Navy with the assistance of an Army helicopter.  Men at war become ingenious improvisers.

Ernie had to man the anti-aircraft gun because the other members of the gun crew were understandably hesitant to stand behind a gun with their hands on the trigger firing at an enemy aircraft while it was diving at them with guns blazing.  He was one not to shrug his duty.  If there was a job to do that needed doing, Ernie was just not one to hesitate.

He was also not one to complain.  He told me while he was in El Paso and the temperature rose to 100° someone was complaining of the heat; Ernie said, “100° is less than 2° warmer than your body heat.  If you can’t take that, then die!”  His analysis was somewhat crass, but it states a point and describes his ability to cope with a situation without complaining.

On 10 June 1945, Ernie was in Nuremburg, Germany, for VE Day!  The long cruel war was finally over for Ernie in Europe and he and the troops could go home at last.

On 19 September 1945, Ernie was given an Honorable Discharge from the Army and was free to return home.  During his tenure he achieved the rank of Private First Class and earned the following awards:

  • European-African-Middle Eastern Theater medal and ribbon Ernie_Awards.JPGwith
         Silver Star and 3 bronze stars (representing a total of 9 awards).
  • WW II Victory medal and ribbon with bronze arrowhead
         (signifying his beach landing in North Africa).
  • Army Good Conduct medal and ribbon.
  • American Theater medal with 5 overseas service bars.
  • One service stripe (for 3 or more years of continuous service).
  • Distinguished Unit badge.
  • Rifleman Marksman pin.

Mess_kit.JPGWhile many of America’s servicemen and women kept a journal to record events and dates of their time in the war Ernie took a different approach to keep his memories.  He used his Army issue mess kit which served as his plate for eating his meals.  The mess kit was a metal plate that had a cover which was secured with a latch.  When closed, the kit stored the knife, fork, spoon and a collapsible metal cup.  He carried this with him throughout the war.  With his bayonet he would engrave the names of the places he was and worthy events with dates.

He kept the mess kit over the years and it remains today a reminder of the many European campaigns he was a part of nearly seventy years ago.

With the end of the war, soldiers, sailors and airman returned home to their families.  Ernie returned to Hammond, Wisconsin, to the farm, but not the farm he had left when he was drafted.  His father had been forced to sell the two hundred acre farm as it was too much for him to work.  He had purchased another farm of about forty acres. 

Ernie worked the farm and took another job delivering milk.  He put in long hours because the only way to make good money doing this involved selling.  He spent much time going from door to door and farm to farm selling their product and building his route.  When it became time to replace a truck, Ernie always got the new one.  This caused some friction amongst his fellow workers as he was the junior man with the company.  He simply showed them his commission check for sales which shut them up.Milk_Truck.png

Later, his boss who was having financial problems decided to shut the company down.  Ernie, hearing this, decided to look into starting his own business.  He had saved enough money from the commission checks that he bought a truck and started canvassing the customers from his old route and soon built a client base to form the business.  The business was a success and Ernie ran it until he retired in later years.

Ernie married and the couple had two children, a boy and a girl. His son would later also serve his country during the Vietnam War in the Air Force.   Maybe Ernie worked too hard, though, because after 25 years of marriage he and his wife broke up and went their separate ways. 

Later Ernie remarried and this marriage also lasted 25 years until his second wife passed away.

2013_Honor_Flight_Veterans.jpgShortly after Ernie’s 84th birthday he was invited to fly to Washington, DC, on 27 April 2013 to visit the war memorials compliments of Honor Flight.  He was assigned a sponsor who was responsible for his care throughout the trip. 

His sponsor, Terry Lang, and Ernie boarded the chartered plane in Minneapolis and flew to Washington, DC, for a day that he will remember for the rest of his life. 

He expressed his tremendous joy in being a part of this.  Like all Veterans who are honored through the Honor Flight trip, Ernie just couldn’t get over Airport_Receiption.jpgthe hundreds of caring people who met the plane in Washington to wish him well and to shake his hand; and when he returned to Minneapolis more caring people met the plane on its return.  The impact of how much their service to our country means to everyone is just not truly realized until they make this trip and experience it for themselves.

 

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