FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Everett Grob last served in the military 59 years ago, but the values the Marine Corps instilled have stuck with him every day of his life.
In recent months, the 96-year-old has had to draw on the principles of courage and inner strength more than ever before.
Grob was married to his wife, Helen, for 73 years. They grew up in the Pelham Bay section of New York City and had known each other since she was 8 and he was 9.
When she died in June, Grob had to figure out a way to deal with the gigantic hole in his life. He coped the same way he dealt with life-and-death battles of World War II.
“Being a Marine has kept me moving, not wanting to give in,” he said.
Grob lives in Spotsylvania County and lives a regimented routine—even though he hasn’t been in service since 1953. He’s up at the same time every day, always makes his bed and never leaves the house without a crease in his pants and a shine on his shoes.
Every day, he visits Helen’s grave at Sunset Memorial Gardens. With their dog, Skeeter, at his side, he talks about the weather and chores he’s done around the house.
Grob also regularly visits Woodmont Healthcare Center, where Helen spent the last 14 months of her life. He wants the workers to know how grateful he is for their kindness and care.
“He’s got an amazing story to tell, and he never complains about himself,” said Helen Green, administrator of the Stafford County facility. “It’s like he told me last week, ‘Life, you just take it as it comes and if you get knocked down, you get up and keep going.’”
Grob’s daughter, Arlene Schmidt of Springfield, said “miraculous things have happened since we lost Mom” that have helped her father keep going.
At the top of the list was meeting Ginny Vickers, a real estate agent, and her husband, Dave, who retired as a major after 20 years in the Marines.
Grob is trying to move into a senior community so he no longer has to cut almost 3 acres of grass and take care of his large home. Ginny Vickers met him when she listed his property in Ni River Landing.
She’s become a good friend as she listens to stories about Helen and the Marine Corps. She learned he had never attended a ball held every year on the birthday of the Corps. She and her husband invited him to an event at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where Dave Vickers is a docent.
Grob sprang into action. He got a haircut, dry-cleaned his Navy blue suit and got out his shoe polish.
“He shined [his shoes] at least four times and wrapped them in tissue paper till the next shine,” she said.
The night of the ball, he tried to dance but his rubber soles wouldn’t glide across the floor. He was honored as the oldest Marine present and didn’t want to leave.
“It was the greatest thing that you could ever attend,” Grob said. “I guess you would say I’m still gung–ho.”
His daughter is grateful for the happiness the moment brought.
“I don’t think he’ll ever, ever have anything like the feeling he had that evening,” she said.
Grob’s daughter realized that night that much of what her father passed along to her and her brother came from his experience in the Marines. Around her, she saw others who demonstrated the same respect for women and sharpness of dress and appearance.
She was reminded of her father’s motto to strive to do the right thing and respect the opinions of others.
“Especially in the last several years, everything has reverted back to the camaraderie and the people he met and the values he got in the Marine Corps,” Schmidt said. “It’s been his life.”
Grob first tried to get into the Marines in 1934, when he was 17. He was told to come back when he grew a little bit.
Grob is 5 feet 6 1/2, an inch and a half shorter than the Marines required. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, he tried to join the Navy, but was married by then, and his wife had to sign her permission.
Two of their neighbors had been on a ship that sank off the coast of Iceland, and Helen couldn’t bear the thought of a watery grave. She wouldn’t sign.
By 1942, he and Helen had a son, and Grob wasn’t eligible for the draft. But by 1943, conditions had relaxed and the military needed all the able-bodied men they could get—even the short ones.
“I wanted Marines because they were first in everything, and you had to be 100 percent,” he said. “When you got down to Parris Island, you found out why.”
Grob was 26 when he headed for combat in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific with others in the 4th Division, 14th Marines. He was a machine-gunner and told a young man from Rochester to stick with him. The fellow was 17 when he joined, and the men in his group “got stinkin’ drunk” when he turned 18, Grob recalled.
Then the young man was sent to the 3rd Division, and Grob learned “the Japs put one in him at Wake Island, when he got off the landing craft.”
Grob had to be relieved of his duty. He was guarding Japanese prisoners and was more than ready to take out his anger on them.
“Marines are the nicest guys in the world” in peacetime, Grob said. “But when they get into combat, they’re the worst individuals you’d ever want to meet. I got to be the same way, I’ll be honest with you.”
Grob served until 1945, then was recalled for service in 1950 after he got what he jokingly called “a nice letter from Harry Truman.” Because he’d done so much time overseas and in combat, he stayed stateside during the Korean War.
After the war, he became a butcher and a real estate broker. He and Helen moved to Virginia when their daughter decided to teach in the commonwealth after graduating from James Madison University.
About eight years ago, Grob’s family started getting on his case about having a physical. He hadn’t had one since he left the military in 1953.
He agreed, “to shut them up.” Tests showed he’d had a minor heart attack—which he didn’t recognize as such—and he had a pacemaker installed. He sees a doctor regularly and remains in good health.
After he’s done his chores at home and has made sure everything is in its place, Grob often puts on Big Band music.
His thoughts go back to his days in the trenches and the music he and his wife loved.
He closes his eyes, and he and Helen are dancing again.
“That is a wonderful way to cope,” said Ginny Vickers, “and remember someone you loved and were married to for 73 years.”