Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Zach Grass remembered

U.S. Army Spc. Zachary A. Grass didn’t need to join the service or give his blood for his country to be a hero to his parents.

The 22-year-old always played that role.

“He was a typical young man,” Frank Grass said from the family’s Beach City home Monday. “He liked to ride the four-wheeler and dirt bikes. When he came home on leave, he liked to have his keg parties and play beer pong.”

Frank Grass cradled his wife in a recliner at their Beach City home as she wept in his arms. Friends and family circulated outside of their home, the only home Zach Grass ever lived in.

They spent the day making funeral arrangements and fielding questions by the media. And they spent the day wrestling with sadness and confusion.

“He was our boy, our son,” Patty Grass said. “He never had an enemy. I don’t know of anybody that didn’t like Zach.”

Zach, a 2003 Fairless High graduate, was killed Saturday morning outside of Baghdad when the humvee he was traveling in struck a roadside bomb. He deployed April 11 from Fort Lewis, Wash., where he was stationed with the 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).

Sgt. Danny R. Soto, of Houston, also died in the bombing.

His death comes a week after Sgt. Cory Endlich, of Massillon, who was also stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., was killed in Iraq. Endlich will be laid to rest today.

News of Endlich’s death last week alarmed Patty.

“My stomach had been in knots,” she said. “Something just wasn’t right. I guess it was a mother thing. I just felt something wasn’t right.”

Zach celebrated his birthday in Iraq. He turned 22 on May 22.

Zach was last home in March, when he had a nine-day break before the April deployment. He had a party with friends and spent time with family.

His best friend, Dustin Wade, has carried with him a photograph of Zach’s visit home. They watched the Ohio State Buckeyes basketball team play in the national championship with other buddies.

The photo hasn’t left his side since Saturday.

“He was a great person,” said Wade, who grew up with Zach and played basketball and baseball with him. “I liked everything about him. I can’t believe it happened. You never think it’s going to happen to someone close to you. I’m just glad I had so many memories with him. I can’t believe he’s gone. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this in my life.”

Wade, like Zach’s parents, didn’t know why his friend decided to join the military. But he knew it was a decision that made Zach happy.

“Every time I talked to him, the kid was happy,” the 22-year-old said sobbing. “That’s what he wanted to do. He was excited about it. He was always pumped up and ready to go over there. It’s not what I wanted him to do, but it’s what he wanted to do and I’m happy he died doing what he wanted.”

The last phone call Patty and Frank Grass took from their son was May 30.

“He said everything was OK,” Frank said. “He was tired.”

Zach was just as protective of his parents as they were of him. In the few months he served in Iraq, he assured his parents he was OK, that he was doing fine. Frank and Patty often went to Zach’s cousins to find out more details.

“He didn’t want us to worry about him,” he said. “He figured the less he told us the less we’d worry.”

After he graduated, Zach enrolled at Stark State and took courses in environmental health services. He changed direction, though, in 2005 when he enlisted in the Army.

“He never really said why he joined,” his mother, Patty, said. “He just did it.”

As a mother, she was also scared when her older son, Benjamin, joined the Air Force.

“I didn’t like it,” Patty said about her’s sons decision to join. “I told (Zach). But he was of age. I couldn’t tell him what to do. That’s what he wanted to do so he had my blessings.”

Frank didn’t know his son chose to serve his country until three days before he left for training. His mother knew, but he asked her not to tell dad. Frank had encouraged both sons to enlist in the Army Reserves when they were nearing completion of high school, but both opposed the idea.

Patty last heard from her son in an e-mail Thursday, two days before his death. He’d broken an electrical razor and asked her to ship him a new one.

“I went out and got him an electrical razor and charged it,” she said, noting that she would collect his favorite things, like Pop Tarts, and send them to her son. “I’ve got these boxes of stuff he’ll never receive.”

Frank said his son has always been and always will be a hero.

“He didn’t have to go anywhere,” he said. “He didn’t have to join the military. He was our son. He was our hero. You don’t need to get killed for your country to be a hero. He wasn’t looking for glory.”

Frank Grass hopes the United States government applies more pressure to the Iraqi government to speed up and eventually end the war.

“It’s unfair that we’ve lost as many as we have,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like we’re moving over there. I would hope like hell that the loss of my son and the loss of every other man and woman wasn’t in vain.”

From the Independent

Related Link:
Zachary A. Grass dies 'of wounds suffered when the vehicle he was in struck an IED'