My Uncle Grover

It’s Memorial Day 2020. Certainly, the coronavirus will mark this as one of the more unusual celebrations of the fallen soldiers who gave their lives in battle fighting for our country’s very survival. The history of this holiday dates back to the end of the Civil War and incorporated those soldiers lost in the two World Wars, Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan as time and conflicts moved on.

The large gatherings associated with this holiday will be changed as we all, civilians and soldiers alike, wage our silent war against a deadly enemy we cannot see, cannot yet kill, and can only try to protect ourselves and others by cleanliness and social distancing to minimize risk.

Remembering a Sailor

I dedicate today’s blog to all of the soldiers and sailors taken in the line of duty. And I ask your leeway in speaking about one special sailor who served but thankfully, did not die in service. I have found myself thinking of him with the coming of this military holiday and wanted to write about and share him with you.

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That sailor was Grover Cleveland Glymph, Jr. Born in 1925, he lived for 89 years before dying just two days before Thanksgiving in 2014. 

That sailor was my Uncle Grover. I cannot claim him all to myself as I was but one of his many nephews and nieces, so he really was “our” Uncle Grover. But to me, he was my “only” Uncle Grover.

I have recollections of Uncle Grover from almost since my time began. He was kind of cuddly sweet. He had a warm smile, a strong hug and handshake, a soft voice and a frequent laugh that accompanied his teasing remarks. Like he tickled himself. For years I thought of it as a Glymph characteristic trait, as my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side all had that laugh. I’ve come to learn it is more of a Kelly trait than Glymph. The humor and good nature came from my grandmother’s side of the family.

Growing up Grover

Grover, like his older brothers, was not a tall man and had balded early in his life. He wasn’t a commanding presence. He didn’t just walk in and capture a room’s attention, nor did he demand it. He kind of wove his way in and around it. At our many family gatherings, he spent time with almost everyone, young and old, although he always found his way to be with and near his sister, my mother. Mom was the “knee baby,” the baby before the youngest baby, still sitting on her mother’s knee when Grover was born. He was the last born into this Depression era family whose parents had moved up north to Durham from that other Carolina just south of Charlotte. 

Grover Cleveland Glymph, Sr., their dad, known to many as “GC,” was a stern father typical of the era. Their many children were to be seen and not heard, and if they were heard during dinner, they were excused quickly from the table to finish their dinners on the back porch. 

I just learned this story from my cousin, Denise, Uncle Grover’s only child. According to Denise and verified by my mother, Mr. Glymph ran a strict household in which his children feared him while adoring and protecting their mother from his unbending nature. “Daddy wasn’t a lovable man,” Mom told me. 

G.C. sold all kinds of insurance and he often made the kids ride along for hours with him as he went calling on his customers to pick up their insurance premiums or to convince them of the need to have a safety net to protect their family from the unknown that lay ahead.

Growing up on Englewood Avenue, the Glymphs were early settlers on what was then a new street cut parallel to the gracious tree-lined mainline of Club Boulevard in West Durham. The small tobacco and mill town was expanding when the house was built in 1920. (Today, their home still sits on the corner of Englewood and Carolina and is in the national registry of historic homes.) These children found their joy in each other and the kids on their street and in school. Only sixteen months apart, Mom and Grover were their own best playmates, once apparently burning down the chicken coop while playing with matches together in the backyard. Whether it was, in fact, a chicken coop or just a storage shed has always been in dispute in the family lore, but burn it down they did, partners in crime, a brush with tragedy that turned out with no injuries so everyone was glad, except Granddaddy.   

Grover worshipped the ground Ed walked on.

Mom has said many times that Uncle Grover worshipped the ground his oldest brother, Ed, walked on. Whatever Ed did, Grover wanted to follow. In talking with Denise recently I learned that there was, of course, much more to that story. That, yes, it was true that her father admired his older brother but the why became even more understandable. You see, Uncle Ed despised his father. He hated the way his father treated his mother and family. Although Mr. Glymph was never physically violent, he had a streak of mean no woman as warm, caring and hardworking as his mother should ever endure. Ed felt belittled by his father, never good enough, never what his dad wanted him to be. When Ed lost his hair in high school, Mr. Glymph found moments to ridicule and make fun of his son making the embarrassment even more unbearable. 

Ed determined early on that he was getting out of that house as soon as he could. But, while he was home, he took Grover under his wing and became his protector, his mentor and instructor. He filled the role of dad for his baby brother. He taught him how to ride a bike, how to swim, catch and throw a ball and how to drive a car. Before he was done, Ed also taught his brother how to leave home.

The Navy is the only way to go

World War II provided Ed with the opportunity and motivation to leave Englewood Avenue and he enlisted in the Navy. America was under attack and needed men. He advised Grover that if he ever thought about enlisting, the Navy was the only way to go. “You’ll always have a bed to lay down in at night, never in a fox hole. And, you’ll get three squares a day.”

At 17, Grover stepped up, dropped out of high school and took his brother’s advice. With his parents’ approval and necessary signatures, he enlisted in the Navy during the heart of the war in the Pacific. No one knows the perils that lie in wait going into service, and few can imagine the terror, violence and carnage that men sling at one another in battle. In the Navy, war was waged on the high seas. And for Grover, it all came down to April 6th, 1945, just four slight months before the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces on August 15, 1945. He was a sailor on the new Fletcher Class Destroyer, the USS Colhoun. The ship was launched on April 10, 1944, commissioned on July 8 and sunk by Japanese aircraft off of Okinawa on April 6, 1945, almost one year later to the day of launch. 

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USS Colhoun DD 801 class Destroyer

Grover’s ship provided assistance in the invasion of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. During its off-shore support it was damaged by a salvo of heavy enemy batteries ashore on March 1, which killed one man and injured 16. After repairs at Saipan, Colhoun sailed for Okinawa

With a fleet of other destroyers positioned to provide support for the invasion of Okinawa, they came under heavy air attack from Japanese fighter planes, each armed with a bomb. One destroyer, the USS Bush, after an intense air attack was dead in the water. The Colhoun steamed to support, aid and rescue when it came under attack as well. The following is the Wiki depiction of the battle.

At 1530 on 6 April 1945, during the first heavy kamikaze raid of the battle of Okinawa, Colhoun received a request for help from Bush and sped to her aid. Interposing her guns between Bush and the attacking suicide planes, Colhoun downed three planes before a kamikaze crashed into the 40 mm (1.6 in) mount scattering flaming wreckage across the ship and dropping a bomb into the after fireroom where it exploded. Retaining power and using emergency steering, Colhoun awaited the next attacking trio, shooting down the first two while the third struck her on the starboard side.

The bomb from the second kamikaze exploded, breaking Colhoun‘s keel, piercing both boilers, ripping a 20 by 4 ft (6.1 by 1.2 m) hole below the waterline, and starting oil and electrical fires. Operating the remaining guns manually, the crew gamely faced yet another wave of three attackers shooting down one and damaging another, while the third kamikaze struck her aft section. This airplane’s bomb bounced overboard and exploded, adding another 3 ft (0.91 m) hole to allow more flooding. Colhoun valiantly struggled to stay afloat, but a final kamikaze crashed into the bridge in a mass of flames. At 1800, LCS-48 took off all but a skeleton crew, which remained onboard while a tug attempted to tow Colhoun to Okinawa. Heavy listing, uncontrolled flooding, and fires made it impossible to save her, and she was sunk by gunfire from USS Cassin Young (DD-793) at 27°16′N 127°48′E. Her casualties were: 34 killed and 21 wounded.

On this fateful day, Grover was assigned to man one of the guns on deck instead of his normal deployment in the engine room. When they came under attack he and his gunnery assistant fired on the incoming aircraft. His assistant was feeding the ammo rounds as Grover fired upon the kamikaze planes until he ran out of ammo. After the first kamikaze hit the ship, he saw the hatch from the engine room pop open, and men climbed out one after the other. They were all on fire and they all died. He knew them all. But for the twist of fate of assignment, we would have lost Grover that day. 

Grover and the other survivors were plucked from the sinking ship by smaller craft in the fleet. He was then sent back to California on an Army Supply ship. It took 30 days to sail home. 

Back home, his wife, Vera, was living and working in California awaiting the end of the war. She’d heard the news of the battle and the sinking of the Colhoun. But no word came on the crew. Communications were tight as the Allies were moving into the final throes of defeating the Japanese. She had no idea whether her Grover was alive and well, injured or dead. There is no way to describe what that wait for news was like for her.

One night there was a knock

One night there was a knock on the door. She opened it and there stood her Grover. He’d lost 20 pounds on the trip home. He said the Army ship was filthy. There were roaches in the rice and they got sick. They ate C-rations the rest of the way home.

Once Uncle Grover and Aunt Vera returned to Durham from California, they were constants with my family. Grover had grown up knowing my dad, playing stick hockey in the streets and tagging along with my parents who were sweethearts starting at 14. They were all like family. They all had two things in common. A healthy respect for Mr. Glymph with a good dash of fear, and an abiding and enduring love for my grandmother. 

Denise said that we never knew of Grover’s war stories growing up because her dad never talked about them, not even to her mother. After one of many harrowing nightmares in the early years, she finally coaxed him to talk some, to confront the nightmares. 

He never really opened up until many years later when Denise joined her dad and Fran, Grover’s second wife, at a Navy reunion. There was a Fletcher class destroyer docked at the reunion that was an exact duplicate of the USS Colhoun. Grover was able to take them below deck, down the hatch, down the vertical ladder into the heart of the ship. There he pointed out, “There’s my bed. That’s my locker. Here’s the engine room where I spent most of my time and where I would have died.”        

Later in Life

Every Sunday when we attended Asbury Methodist Church, there was Uncle Grover, a frequent usher waiting in the vestibule to take us to our pew. As he walked us down the aisle to the center second row pew, the worshippers were almost always standing, the organ playing big and loud, and the choir singing. For years I believed they were standing because Uncle Grover was our usher and they were standing for us. It felt like we were royalty. Turns out, as I later realized, they were standing because it was the singing the opening hymn, we were late as usual, and it was one of the allotted moments for the ushers to seat people. Still, it was a grand entry and Grover always seemed so proud. 

A card every birthday until…

Grover and my older brother, Lin, shared the same birthday, March 14th. For years, he sent us each a birthday card on our birthday. It always made me feel special as I’m sure that it did my brothers and sisters. Then, one day I was talking with Mom on the phone and she asked me if I ever sent Grover a birthday card. I replied, no, it had never crossed my mind. I was in my forties at the time. “Well,” she said, “That’s what I thought. Grover said as much the other day. After all of these years that he sent you kids a card every birthday, you and your brothers and sisters had never returned the favor. ‘I don’t know why I keep doing it,’ he said to me. And, I don’t know why he did either.” 

I felt so guilty for having taken his love and kindness for granted. It was the only time that I heard of him wanting attention, acknowledgement. 

From the March 14th forward until he died, I sent him a birthday card. He had stopped sending one to me. And, that was okay. He’d done his part for far too long. 

And, to this day, I send my nieces and nephews a card on their birthday. It is one way to  honor of Grover and remember and pass along his feeling of family, of staying connected and paying tribute to the courage he summoned to fire away at the enemy bearing down on you from the sky, doing its best to kill you, and, by killing you, kill the country, one life at a time.  

Thank you Grover. 

A couple of things…

Here’s a link to the story of Hutch Hutchinson, Dad’s buddy in the Marines who “got it” on Iwo. You won’t believe this story of men, war and 65 years later.

Here’s the Official Deck “Watch Log” dated April 6, 1945 from the USS Colhoun. It is the report from the ship’s watch on the attack in which Uncle Grover fought and survived. Straightforward and harrowing military description.

USS COLHOUN (DD-801)

1610 – Sighted Bush dead ahead. 1635 – Closed Bush who was dead in the water smoking badly and down by the stern. She still had remains of what appeared to be a Betty plastered on her starboard side amidships. She was being circled by a group of enemy planes …. At about 1710, the leading top Zeke peeled off and started a run on Colhoun …. Opened fire at 9000 yards …. motor started smoking at about 1000 yards off. Plane released bomb at about this point, but continued his strafing and glide. He passed over the ship …. no damage to ship …. Plane apparently headed for Bush …. Bush was in line distant about 4000 yards, 40mm and 20mm continued to register hits …. plane hit water about midway between Colhoun and Bush …. another attack started about 1714 …. received report that plane on port bow was about to crash us, ordered full left rudder but too late …. Plane hit in flames on main deck at #44 40mm mount, part of flaming fuselage swept across ship, engine and bomb penetrated main deck exploding in after fireroom …. also setting fire to handy billys which had been placed in readiness for going alongside Bush …. Gun crews of 40mm mounts 3 and 4 were either killed or badly burned, mounts destroyed by crash and fire and ready ammunition on fire. Gun crews of 20mm guns 1 and 3 were all severely burned but guns not badly damaged …. 1717 …. high Zeke started in …. this time the two leading Vals came along …. The Zeke came in on starboard bow, one Val on port and one on port quarter. Again all three came in at about at 45o dive very slow …. All guns opened fire when attack started on port bow targets …. hit Val square with first 5″ salvo thereby splashing him off port quarter about 200 yards. Guns 1 and 2 obtained hits early on (estimated 6000 yards) Val on port bow and he appeared out of control. (This plane missed us attempted to suicide Bush and was splashed by automatic weapons of Bush and LCS64) …. Shifted to plane on starboard bow. Here our lucked failed …. and plane crashed through starboard motor whaleboat and into forward fireroom, where bomb exploded, breaking keel, piercing both boilers, putting hole about 20 feet long and 4 feet wide in starboard side below water line …. All communications lost with after part of ship …. were soon dead in the water …. We still had 120 cans of foam extinguisher on board …. In about eleven minutes all fires were under control by use of foam or CO2. …. 1725 another attack commenced ….. the Val on starboard bow caught his port wing on the after stack bounced off gun 3 knocking off his gas tank which flamed to the main deck by gun 4, flaming and taking 45 director bath tub along, bounced off main deck into water where bomb exploded putting a hole below the water line about three feet square in compartment C-205, but so deluging the after part of ship with water that all fires started were extinguished. The water however washed most of after 20mm crews and a few of the torpedomen over the fantail. They were in most instances able to swim back, one was rescued by Enyon, Coxswain and four by ship’s port motor whaleboat …. This attack was followed by the remaining two Vals who came in off starboard quarter in loose echelon about 4000 yards apart, strafing as they came. Each let go one bomb when about 300 yards off the quarter at about 500 feet. They were fired on by gun 4 but undamaged. One pulled out and headed for Tokyo the other hit Bush starting fires and explosions. The Bush sank about 1 hour later. The area now appeared clear of all aircraft, so attention was devoted to getting some assistance. (The LCS 64 had cleared Bush sometime in the melee and was apparently damaged herself, but she certainly had done a brave bit of work in going alongside …. In fact her conduct throughout was that of complete fearlessness coupled with good gunnery and good seamanship.) …. The ship was down about 3 feet by the stern but on almost an even keel at this time (About 1800) when out of nowhere appeared a Hamp smoking badly and diving on the starboard bow, guns 1, 2 and 41 scored direct hits, but at very close range. His left wing hooked the pilot house but the gasoline spilled on the bridge did not catch fire, and all personnel had taken shelter so no great damage …. this completed the enemy action for the day as far as we were concerned.

… G. R. Wilson, Commander, USN, Action Report dated April 27, 1945

4 thoughts on “My Uncle Grover

  1. Thanks for writing this. I appreciate the love and care you have for Grover and now I feel that same love.

  2. Aunt Fran, you have been the best addition to our family. You brought joy and love and laughter and became a fast friend to Mom and Dad and all of us. Bless you. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the story.

  3. I was looking out for this but only saw it today. I am truly having a hard time finding the words to tell you how deeply this story of my Dad has touched me. To think I grew up not knowing anything about his service until I was in my late 50’s. I’m so grateful for you telling his story and part of our family’s story. We sure were lucky
    Love you very much
    Denise

  4. Denise, I am so glad! I was getting worried. Yes, to know that your dad and mine both fought in some of the fiercest battles in the war and lived through it and all the burdens that come with it.
    I love you too and have been so grateful for your being there for our mom as well. She loves to the ends of the earth.
    Steve

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