---- — At present there are about 60,000 American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. None of these warrior-heroes are members of my family. In fact, right now I don’t personally know any of those brave men or women in the war zone.
This would not have been the case during the Second World War. Back then about every house in Derry displayed a service flag with blue stars indicating how family members were in the armed forces. A gold star meant a son or daughter, a husband or wife had died while in the service.
A local example of commitment to the war effort was the Grady family of East Derry. Attorney Frederic and Eleanor Grady had moved to Derry from Boston in 1923. They owned a 12-room house in East Derry just to the east of the Taylor Library. Here they raised seven children — who all attended the local schools and Pinkerton Academy. Frederic was active in town politics and Eleanor was involved with the charitable affairs of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. While perhaps not wealthy, the Gradys lived a comfortable life during those hard years of the Great Depression.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, the family collectively felt the compulsion to help their country in its war against totalitarianism. Immediately, the federal government decided it had to control the nation’s resources to ensure that there was food, gasoline, tires and the like available for the war effort. Attorney Grady served without pay in the thankless task of being a member of Derry’s Price and Rationing Board. This was the group who could approve or deny requests for a larger food ration or new tires for the family car. It was an unpopular job but someone had to do it.
Mrs. Eleanor Grady took an active role in the local Red Cross, which was sewing bales of bandages to be used in military hospitals. Four of the Grady children served in the armed forces. Another son was employed doing war work at the Watertown Arsenal. The youngest daughter was studying to be a nurse in preparation for someday becoming an Army nurse.
Pvt. Robert W. Grady, age 27, enlisted in Manchester in October, 1942. His military career was cut short by injury and was given an honorable discharge for medical reasons around 1944.
Capt. Ruth Grady enlisted in the WACs in January 1943. She remained in the Army until the end of the war in 1945. During that time, she served in many American bases. For the last year of the war she was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. There she served as executive officer at the base’s Airborne School — the Army’s leading parachute training center.
Lt. Paul G. Grady was in his third year at Boston University Law School when the war’s drums sounded. He was inducted in March 1942 and was soon sent to the Pacific theater of conflict. While in New Zealand, he became engaged to a local woman. Before they could be married, he was killed in action in Luzon in the Philippines on Jan. 17, 1945. He is buried at the military cemetery in Manila.
After graduating from Pinkerton Academy, Staff Sgt. Thomas Grady spent three years studying art in schools in Boston and New York City with the plans to be a theatrical set designer. He entered the Army in March 1942 and was trained in a gunnery school. Within months he was sent across the Pacific to serve as a turret gunner on B-24s. As a member of the Army’s storied 10th Air Force, he flew missions over India, Burma and China. During the war he logged 48 missions over enemy territory — each flight averaging 9 hours. In total, his combat flight time totaled 426 hours and 20 minutes. For his service, he was awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In a 1945 interview to the Manchester Union Leader, Sgt. Thomas Grady recalled that “I’ll never forget the first time I saw Jap Zero planes in action. I was surprised that I was not scared. It all seemed like a game. But when I began to see ships of my own squadron shot down, I really did get scared — for then we knew all too well that it was not a game; it was bitter, vicious warfare.”
In 1945, while in an Army convalescent hospital in New York, Thomas was able to finally return to painting. One of his still lifes painted while in the Army was later exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. After leaving the service, Thomas was employed as a commercial artist until his retirement in 1988. He passed away on Jan. 8, 2011, at the age of 92. He was buried in the Grady lot in the Holy Cross Cemetery, Londonderry.
Regretfully, I never had the chance to talk to Thomas Grady about his personal history. Fortunately, the Natick, Mass. Historical Society taped a video interview in 1999 in which he tells the story of his life and military service. It is well worth finding on the Internet at www.natickvets.org.
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry. His office hours at the Municipal Center are Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.