By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (November 8, 2016) – Leroy Griffin, an Arizona native, joined the United States Army at the age of 17. He volunteered for service. It was something expected of every able-bodied young man.
“It became everybody’s duty when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” Griffin said. “World War II was a very patriotic time.”
Griffin was still in school on December 7, 1941. He was not yet 16 years old when Normandy was invaded on June 6, 1944.
It was common back in those days to be accosted by the mothers of young soldiers. They would ask why a strong young man – an adolescent by today’s standards – was studying, playing football and riding his bicycle across town. They would ask why a young Leroy Griffin was living free while their sons were fighting for his freedom and that of other Americans and people around the world.
“It was a thing then to get an envelope in the mail containing a white chicken feather,” he recalled.
But Griffin was not chicken. His time came, and looking back at it all, days after his 88th birthday, it was a privilege.
“I would do it all again,” he said.
Griffin’s military career spanned 16 years. He served missions related to two wars – World War II and the Korean War. He openly shares may memories from his time in war-torn Germany. He signed on as part of the Allied occupying force upon Germany’s surrender from WWII in 1945.
He is a proud soldier. He is also a man of honor and won’t speak of his secretive operations in Korea. The battle ended more than 60 years ago.
But back to WWII. A trained Explosive Ordnance Demolition (EOD) specialist, Griffin arrived in Le Havre France about a year after Germany surrendered, in the spring of 1946. Threats to human lives and safety remained. Explosive devices littered the German countryside. Griffin’s unit transferred to Heidelberg, assigned the dangerous duty of disabling them.
For actions during that time, Griffin would later be honored. The award was just one of many he received over the years. But, it’s the recognition of which he is most proud, because fighting for freedom and taking down enemies aren’t a soldier’s only duties – they save the lives of innocent civilians.
Griffin and his unit had been called to diffuse a 500-pound explosive device that was located in the bottom of a building.
“When we were working on the bomb, we heard singing and voices from above,” Griffin said, recalling the heavenly sound. “We asked what it was, what we were hearing.”
The building was a cathedral. Everyone in town was gathered there, singing and praying to sing. While the men below were dismantling a deadly munition, they continued to worship, unmoved – perhaps unaware – of the threat.
“Everyone in the unit was presented a humanitarian award for saving the people it the church,” he said.
Griffin’s unit was next assigned to a mission on the German border. They manned roadblocks and were tasked with identifying and detaining potential war criminals – men whose bodies were marked with twin lightning bolts of the SS Trooper.
His time in Germany was no doubt perilous. Facing danger was a part of the duty.
And for a soldier, danger is everywhere. Griffin later sustained serious injury during an EOD training exercise involving a 155-caliber cannon and a 97-pound projectile. Upon pulling the chord, detonation didn’t occur. Griffin followed protocol, but upon opening the breech, the faulty device exploded, rocketing him backward.
A serious chest wound, burns to his body and broken ribs led… Led to the willing soldier’s eventual return to the United States. He was hospitalized for some time, underwent rehabilitation.
He was then sent to “God’s country.” Griffin was stationed at Fort Hood for sometime. He participated in sports, lived a little more of the gridiron glory of his younger days, while at the base. He received an honorable discharge.
Griffin never left Texas, where he met his wife at Dyess Airforce Base. They were married April 3, 1965. Frankie passed away in 2004.
Decades after his military career came to end, Griffin remains to committed to his band of brothers. He is an Honorary Life Member of American Legion. In 2007, he became the seven member of Turnbow-Higgs Post 240 to receive the honor. He has served the post in many ways over a period of about 30 years, commander, adjunct and chaplain.
He is also a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign War and Disabled American Veterans. Griffin is also known across the community as the “Candyman,” tossing chocolates and blessings to everyone he encounters. He is a member of the Masonic Lodge, Old Goats and many other clubs and organizations.
Griffin is a proud man, but not boastful. He is satisfied with where life took him, the battles. He said it was the American way. The United States was formed on a fight and that spirit still remains.
An upcoming honor
The fighting spirit and Griffin’s heritage are being honored Sunday, November 13 when Major George B. Erath Chapter 2679 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) will present him with two crosses – one for his time in WWII and the other for his unspoken service in Korea.
The Brave Begat the Brave is an annual event during which the UDC recognizes American military veterans and descendants of a Confederate soldiers who served in the Civil War, also known as “The War Between the States.”
Also being honored at the post-Veteran’s Day event are Jack Parks, who will receive the Korean Cross, and Gene Skaggs, being honored with the National Defense Vietnam Medal.
Posthumous honors will be presented to Vernon Mills and Fred Ewers, Sr., with their sons, Jay Mills and Fred Ewers, Jr., receiving WWII crosses on their behalf.
“It’s a really moving ceremony,” local UDC chapter President Sheran Weible said.
The Second Texas Frontier Camp 1904 Sons of Confederate Veterans assist with the ceremony, wrapping up the event with the shooting of a cannon and rifle salute.
Weible said the ceremony once honored living WWI veterans. Now, the organization is working to present a ceremonial cross to as many veterans who served during WWII as possible.
“There are not many of those brave men left,” she said. “These men are descended from a brave Confederate soldier and the beat goes on.”
The public is invited to attend The Brave Begat the Brave ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday, November 13 at the Chapel on the Bosque, located on the Stephenville Historical House Museum grounds at 525 East Washington Street.
For more information on the event of UDC, contact Weible at 254-445-2361.