Sisters remember brother killed in Korean War
After fighting in the European Theater during World War II, Army PFC Grady Reese just wanted to get back home to his grandparent’s farm in Plainville a few miles below Calhoun.
However, some American military units stayed behind as occupation forces in Germany.
“I want to come home so bad it makes me hurt all over,” Reese wrote plaintively in a letter dated May 1946, a year after Germany’s surrender. “I wish I could be helping Papa (grandfather). Boy, I’d be glad to put in overtime with that tractor.”
It’s unclear when Reese got to return to north Georgia. But when the Korean War broke out in 1950, he again answered the call to go fight. But this time he would not be coming home. He was killed in action on Jan. 26, 1951, at age 24.
A younger sister, Ann Reese of Dalton, was 9 years old when Grady died in combat.
“He was a good guy – of course, anybody would say that about their brother – but when we lived in Chattanooga, he stayed in Calhoun with my grandparents, my mother’s parents,” she said. “Papa was a farmer, so Grady stayed there and helped him farm and till the land and things. But he also helped other people with their land and gardens.”
Grady was the oldest sibling, born in 1926 in Cedartown to Ralph and Ruby Young Reese. He was followed by Jack, and then four girls were added to the family in later years – Barbara, Carolyn, Margaret and Ann. Grady was married to Lillian Reese of Plainville, and they had a 3-year-old son, Gary, when he was killed.
Carol noted of the time, “We were all so young!”
“When Grady got home from World War II, he said, ‘I’m going to get all you girls a bicycle,’ but our mother wouldn’t let us have bicycles because we lived on a hill,” she said. “He went to grade school in Plainville; our grandfather and grandmother lived there and he lived there. He loved farming the fields for my grandfather.”
Getting the news
Carol said her mother and father owned a store on Main Street in Chattanooga, and it was there her mother received the shocking news of Grady’s death.
“She was at the store by herself and (Army officers) called her on the phone – which was a terrible thing to do,” she remembered. “I have questioned the government about that quite a few times, and they said that’s not the way they usually do it. They send someone down to tell you.”
Ann was at the train station in Calhoun with her family when Grady’s body arrived.
“Thomas Funeral Home was the one that took care of the services,” she said. “(They) told my daddy Grady was over there for a year after he got killed. They told (my parents) that might not even
be Grady’s body after a year, and I thought, ‘That’s kinda cruel to tell someone that.’”
PFC Reese’s death was announced in the Feb. 8, 1951 issue of The Gordon County News. Carol remembered two soldiers accompanied her brother’s body.
“They were standing in a boxcar and it was open, and we were all standing on the side of the road,” she said. “And my mother just passed out. It was so sad. (His casket) was covered in a flag. There were a lot of people at his funeral. I met four guys that were his buddies and they went over there (to Korea) when he did. They told me what a wonderful guy Grady was, and that when they got their boxes of cigarettes and candies and cookies he would always half his with others.”
The soldiers in Grady’s unit revealed where he was killed.
“He had just made sergeant and got a raise,” said Carol. “I have a letter he wrote to his brother Jack telling about the raise. They were having some kind of big deal with the Koreans where they were supposed to come on real strong (in an offensive). That was the area he was sitting in with his men and they were all wiped out. It was at the 38th Parallel.”
Carol said her father took the death of his first-born son the hardest.
“My daddy, just losing a son, I never felt so sorry for anybody,” she recalled. “And my mother too. But my mother handled her (grief) and finally saw she had to pull herself up to take care of my dad, because he was so brokenhearted over losing one of his sons. My dad wrote a letter about my brother and said he was one of the most congenial persons he had ever known in his life, and was such a people person – he just liked people. We didn’t get his body back for a year, and that was really a terrible load on my mother and father because we couldn’t get closure.”
Ann said she thinks of her brother often.
“I think of how did he get killed, and how did it feel getting shot?” she said. “I thought more of mother and how she felt, and my daddy too, but especially my momma. I just feel the pain. Mother used to talk (about it) when she got older.”
Grady wrote letters to his parents and grandparents that Ann has in her possession. Following are three of them.
From Waldmuchen, Germany, near the border with Chechoslavakia, dated Sept.
“I like to look at these mountains and a little village that you can see from here, because I know I came through here when the war was on. I can sit here and almost pick out the exact spots where we fought … This is a nice rest camp, but I think I’ll take my next trip somewhere else … guess you’re working hard these days, trying to get the crop in … the 90th Division is staying here for occupation, but I’m still hoping to be home by July 4, 1946 … Jack writes me more than anyone else. I guess a brother is about a good a buddy as anyone could have. He’s with me all the time, I wrote a long letter to him last night.
“So how do you like my pen? I won it in a rifle-firing contest, it’s a Waterman, $10. I also won this pass to the rest camp. Well, here it is about 6:30, I’ve just had supper. I have a date to go to a stage show. Don’t worry about me.”
A reflective letter dated May 1946 from Munberg, Germany:
“I want to come home so bad it makes me hurt all over. I realize now I’ve got a heart, and sometimes it really hurts. It hurts to where you have an awful funny feeling … back when the war was going, a shell hit pretty close to me and exploded, and sometimes I believe that is the cause of some of my nerves being so bad. Sometimes I’m pretty nervous. The concussion hurt me, but I didn’t think too much of it. I don’t want to try and make you think I’m battle crazy or anything
like that, for I am a long way from that, I hope.”
May 12, 1945, in Czechoslovakia:
“I’ll be glad when it warms up again and we get our summer uniforms, because this wool is driving me nuts. I’ll never wear wool again if I ever get out of the Army. I hope I’m that lucky. I’ve been in Scotland, England, France, Germany, and I’m in Czechoslavakia now. (Says something about the South Pacific) Boy, I sure hope I don’t have to go there. Maybe they will keep the 90th Division in occupation here.
“The Germans have sure treated these poor Czech people bad. Here in the home I’m
in now the Germans have one of the daughters in prison, and they killed the father last Monday. They seem to take it pretty well, but I guess they are used to it by now. They sure welcome American soldiers. I’ve seen times I could sit down and cry if I’d known it would have did good. But it’s war, and I guess as long as there is time there will be war. I sure would like to be home now, I wish I could be helping Papa (grandfather). Boy, I’d be glad to put in overtime with that tractor. I think I’d like to farm when I come home. Don’t worry about me, (tell) Granny that I’m alright.”
Ann said other letters were
lost in a home fire many years ago, including some he may have written from Korea.
PFC Grady D. Reese was a member of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, according to honorstates. org. He is remembered at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and received a Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Citation, Republic of Korea War Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Army Presidential Unit Citation and Army Good Conduct Medal.
He is buried at Franklin Cemetery in Plainville.