New York village pays tribute to Vietnam hero
By Sgt. John Neal
| | July 07, 2001
GROTON, N.Y. --
"Looking through my desk log for Feb. 16, 1968, I expected to find some extraordinary event - some connection I could talk about," said Martin Luster, New York State Assemblyman for the 125th District. "I found nothing extraordinary. Who would have thought 33 years later I'd be talking about a man who - just a few years younger than I - committed an act of honor, an act of bravery, an act of brotherhood, an act of selflessness."
Assemblyman Luster was just one of several distinguished guests who came to Groton, N.Y., July 7 to speak at the memorial dedication for Medal of Honor recipient Marine 2nd Lt. Terrence C. Graves. Graves was a team leader in the 3rd Recon Battalion, 3rd Marine Division when he was killed Feb. 16, 1968.
Graves was well known throughout his childhood in this region just east of the Finger Lakes. Born in Texas July 6, 1945, Graves's family moved to central New York, where his father, Leslie, began a career in teaching and public school administration. By the time he got to high school, Terrence - or Terry, as friends and family knew him - had already begun to demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities that would carry him through Miami University of Ohio on a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship.
Upon graduation from Miami University in May 1967, Graves was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, and was ordered to South Vietnam six months later. Two months after his arrival, team Box Score, consisting of six enlisted Marines and a corpsman under the command of 2nd Lt. Graves, participated in a reconnaissance mission northwest of Dong Ha. By the afternoon of the following day, the small recon team was engaged in heavy combat with two companies of the North Vietnamese Army.
Graves ordered his team to a new position for extraction while simultaneously calling for indirect fire support. Wounded in the thigh, he refused medical attention as other Marines were also wounded.
Despite the heavy concentration of automatic and small arms fire, a helicopter managed to land to pick up the team of Marines. Realizing that one of the wounded Marines - Cpl. Danny Slocum - had not climbed aboard the helicopter, Graves jumped off the craft and ordered it to lift off without him.
One of the Marines who survived that afternoon would later go on to say, "What Lieutenant Graves did was the bravest thing I've ever seen."
According to Graves's father, while everyone in the Groton community was shocked to hear of his son's death, few were surprised when they heard of his deeds.
"Several of his friends were not surprised at all when they heard of the sacrifices Terry made," he said. "'That was just like him,' they said."
Another Marine joined Graves prior to the helicopter lifting off, and the three Marines left behind at Dong-Ha continued to fight, though low on ammunition. As they fought and moved to a new extraction point, Graves continued to call for fire support until a second helicopter arrived. The trio boarded the second helicopter, but an intensified volume of enemy fire caused the craft to crash shortly after taking off, killing all aboard except Slocum. Corporal Slocum managed to evade capture and being killed by enemy and friendly fire, and was eventually rescued.
"As recipient of the Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart, the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Silver Star, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, 2nd Lt. Graves represents the courage, tenacity, and honor for which these awards stand," wrote General James L. Jones, Commandant of the Marine Corps. "He gallantly and selflessly gave his life for his country."
It took one year, since its inception by retired Marine Master Sgt. Jim Greenman, to organize a committee and raise enough money to create the memorial that now stands in Groton Municipal Park. According to Greenman, the idea for a monument came to him at a game of golf with a friend of his who mentioned a Medal of Honor recipient was from Groton.
"I called his [Graves's] father, and asked him if I could form a committee and build a monument to his son," said Greenman. "He gave me the go ahead and that's how it started."
More than 500 individuals from 19 different states and 72 communities in New York donated money to erect the granite memorial at the Groton Municipal Park. Raising funds was not a problem in this central New York area where towns average a population of 2,000. Through a campaign of placing ads in newspapers and writing letters to community leaders, the memorial committee managed to raise almost $50,000. The remaining funds not used in constructing the memorial have gone to the newly formed Terrence Graves Memorial Scholarship. The first recipient of the scholarship was Will Roberts of Groton Central High School Class of 2001.
Representing the Marine Corps at the ceremony was Maj. Gen. Pete Osman, Director for Operational War Plans and Interoperability at Washington D.C. In his address to the people of Groton, he assured them the sacrifices Graves made 33 years earlier have not gone in vain in the Marine Corps.
"This practice of honor before self is found in studies by recruits on those who received the Medal of Honor," he said, referring to the Crucible portion of recruit training.
Retired Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Robert Purple was Graves's high school teacher, basketball coach, and mentor, and closer to the young man from Groton than most. In his comments at the memorial dedication, he was able to summarize the character of 2nd Lt. Terrence Graves in a few, simple words.
"Confident, determined, and able to back it all up," said Purple. "That was Terry. The best of things in the worst of times."