Monday, August 06, 2007

Cody Grater remembered

SPRING HILL — Pfc. Cody Grater hated to see friends upset.

So when a longtime friend’s dog had to be euthanized, Grater took action.

“He took us to Sarasota to see the dolphins so she wouldn’t think about it,” recalled Brittany Leach, Grater’s girlfriend at the time.

Friends said that was typical of Grater, whom they described as kind, soft-spoken and quick to share a laugh.

“He always made you smile, and always kept your mind off the bad things,” Leach said.

Now Grater’s friends and family are dealing with the worst.

Grater, 20, died Sunday near Baghdad when his guard position was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.

He was a vehicle driver with the 407th Brigade Support Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The loss feels more stunning, friends said Tuesday, because Grater was just in Spring Hill two weeks ago, on leave after serving seven months in Iraq. He visited friends and family and celebrated his sister Cheyanne’s 14th birthday before returning for another seven-month tour.

Grater’s mother Anita Lewis lives in Spring Hill. So does his stepfather, Larry Decker. Decker could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Lewis did not return calls and no one answered the door when a reporter visited Tuesday morning.

A sticker on the front door of the yellow rancher proclaimed, “I am the proud parent of a soldier.”

“Our son died doing what he was proud of,” Decker and Lewis said in a statement issued by the Army. “It was his goal to make the Army his career, which he loved. He was proud of serving his country.”

Grater was raised in Spring Hill, attending Fox Chapel Middle School and then Springstead High School in 2002 and 2003. He left before graduating but later earned his general equivalency diploma.

He was among the original volunteers to help make the skate park in Spring Hill a reality, County Commissioner Diane Rowden said.

“He left a mark in Hernando County,” she said.

Grater tried to get into the U.S. Coast Guard but wasn’t able to, Leach said. He then considered the Army.

Friends tried to talk him out of it, recalled Leach’s mother, Kimberly Rae.

“I want to do something with my life,” Rae recalls Grater saying.

“He was searching for something,” said Donald Myers, Leach’s grandfather who befriended Grater. “He wanted to belong to something.”

Grater joined in 2006 and completed driver training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

“He had something to prove to himself,” said Sgt. Brady Parris, an Army recruiter in Brooksville who remained close to Grater after he joined. “He was a quiet person, motivated, always willing to accept responsibility, always willing to accept hard missions.”

Grater, who stood around 6 feet tall, was “strong mentally and physically,” Parris said, and he enjoyed helping other recruits to get in shape.

Grater had a love and skill for all things mechanical. He was often working on his Honda Civic, taking it apart and putting it back together.

Leach recalls Grater coming to visit her at work one day after joining up.

“He was wearing his uniform and you could tell he was so proud of himself,” she said.

Grater evidently made an impression on comrades and commanders, according to stories related by Rae.

In one, Grater’s sergeant was irate because a machine gun on one of the trucks had been left inoperable by another of Grater’s comrades.

The angry commanding officer yelled at Grater to fix the machine there on the spot — in the pouring rain. Grater did.

“You’re the new gunner,” the sergeant told Grater.

On his 20th birthday March 1, his fellow soldiers made him a makeshift birthday cake. They called him “the baby” because his was the youngest on the team, Rae said.

Grater found an extended family in the relatives of Leach, who lives in Spring Hill. The pair stopped dating about six months ago, but Grater remained close to the family and made sure to visit often, including during his leave last month.

Rae recalled her first impression of Grater. She was recovering at home from surgery when her daughter brought in her new boyfriend and several other friends. Rae fretted about her appearance and apologized to her unexpected guests.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, you look beautiful,” she recalled. “I said, ‘You and I are going to be very good friends.’”

On Tuesday, Leach and her family flipped through photos taken over the last three years.

Earlier photos showed a boyish Grater in 2004, decked out in a white tuxedo on the way to Leach’s junior prom at Central High School.

In another, he sits atop a four-wheeler, the sun setting behind him.

In still another, Grater lips are pursed in a frozen kiss for the camera.

Rae put her favorite shot in a gold frame. Grater had just returned from basic training and had come to visit.

It was the same Cody, still fun-loving and quick to joke. But he was a man matured by military service, Rae recalled.

“You could tell his demeanor had changed,” Rae said.

Gone was the gold ball he once wore in his ear. He got a tattoo and would have at least three before his death: An angel on his torso; the words “Florida Boy” on his stomach;” a Chinese fish symbolizing luck on his arm.

Rae asked Grater, who was wearing his fatigues, to pose for the photo. He stood at attention.

“I said, ‘No, I want to see you, Cody,” Rae recalled. “I want to see your personality.”

So Grater relaxed, leaned against the tree, jauntily tucked his hand over his belt and flashed a wide smile.

“That’s the Cody we all know and love,” Rae said.

A couple of days ago, friends found Grater’s flash drive that contained photos from Iraq.

In one, Grater poses with a machine gun tucked into the crook of his arm. Another shows him standing under the giant, crossed sabers that mark the entrance to the parade grounds in Baghdad.

Those photos and others are posted on a MySpace page titled “Rest in Peace Cody,” where friends have left comments expressing love for Grater and shock at his death.

Grater expressed disappointment in the media’s portrayal of the conflict in Iraq. The news was too negative, he said, and didn’t give a full picture of the progress that U.S. forces were making there.

The recent surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad was working, Grater said.

“He said the insurgents were running scared of us because they knew we were winning,” Rae said.

Grater was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other commendations.

He is the third Hernando County serviceman to die in the war on terror.

Rae said he had expressed interest in one day being buried at Arlington National Cemetery to be with the “bigwigs.”

But Rae said his mother Anita plans to bury him at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell so he is close.

Grater’s remains are expected to arrive in Brooksville next week, Rae said. Arrangements were unavailable at press time.

“He’s our American hero,” Rae said.

From Hernando Today

Related Link:
Cody C. Grater dies 'of wounds suffered from enemy direct fire'