In 1941, during the darkest days of World War II, when the Axis powers were making their biggest gains, a young man from New Jersey decided to join the war effort — much to the displeasure of his father.
“In 1941, our lives were forever changed,” Grassey said. “We all enlisted. War was raging all over the world, and we weren’t doing that well.”
Having recently graduated from Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Grassey went against the wishes of his father and did what he thought was right. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
“My father was a great guy, but he hadn’t worked for seven years when I got out of high school,” said Grassey, a native of Glens Falls, New York. “He didn’t want me to get into war, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to be with my buddies. We had a job to do for our country.”
Since 1942, Grassey, who served as a bomber pilot during World War II, has been a man of service and now seeks to leave a legacy for those to come after him.
Grassey had no fears when it came to enlisting. He considered military service an honor and a privilege.
“What I really wanted to do was be a pilot,” he said. “I saw other guys with their pilot wings, and I wanted to be a part of that. We also felt like it was our duty to be in World War II; you didn’t want to get left behind.”
In August 1945, as the war was ending, Grassey stepped away from military life to pursue his education. He planned to take full advantage of the G.I. Bill of Rights. Although he had always dreamed of being a student at the University of Notre Dame, baseball led him to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. He had played sports in high school, and the friendships made a lasting impression on him. As a Leopard, he made a College World Series appearance and received a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Lessons learned from serving in the military, getting an education and experiencing life-or-death situations molded Grassey into the man he is today.
Now 92, Grassey still stands firm in his love of country and the importance of character. The author, speaker and docent at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler has no plans of slowing down.
The legacy of his time spent serving is one he cherishes and documents in his book “It’s Character that Counts.” Throughout its pages, readers will discover six pillars of character. Trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship all stand as universal character traits. With each character trait, he shares a story of inspiration based on his fallen comrades. High school buddies and soldiers who shared memories are recorded in Grassey’s book. Proceeds from the book benefit the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
The book is one project that has launched several others avenues for Grassey to solidify his legacy. Being able to reach young people is something of great importance, so it was the motivation for an educational program, Character Counts!
“Character Counts! is a nationally recognized program developed by the Josephson Institute that the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force adopted to help instill better character into local students,” said Heather Thies the Mighty Eighth’s director of education and volunteers.
The program uses the six universal character traits highlighted in Grassey’s book. It aims to “help teach students how to have strong character and work to be a better person in some way every day. Character Counts! uses the TEAM approach to teaching these traits — Teach, Enforce, Advocate and Model. Being integrated into their curriculum every day, all day helps reinforce each trait and its importance,” said Thies.
The Character Counts! program has been adopted by Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.
Speaking and writing have been in the forefront for Grassey much of his life. “Songs to Victory,” a CD featuring Grassey’s voice and classic tunes from the war era, will soon be available for purchase. This is one more project that captures memories, shines a light on a time not forgotten and will contribute to the legacy of all those who served. Proceeds from the CD will benefit the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.