CLEARFIELD – After losing his father as a child, a young man from Lewistown would go on to become a soldier, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a successful business man, all rolled into one.
Robert H. Grimminger passed away Feb. 6, but the legacy he built in Clearfield will live on.
According to his son, Robert F. Grimminger, Bob lost his father when he was only two or three years old. He began working on an Amish farm as a way to earn money.
“He grew up working on that farm,” Bob said of his father. “He was a great athlete, but he always had to work.”
Like many men of his generation, Grimminger joined the U.S. Army in February of 1943, to do his part for his country during World War II. He was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division and soon given the opportunity to volunteer for parachutist jump school.
In May of 1944, Grimminger was sent to Camp Stoneman in California for embarkation to their overseas deployment.
According to his memoirs, Grimminger’s division went through extensive training in the Owen Stanly Mountains of New Guinea, before their commitment to combat on Layte Island. Grimminger wrote about his first combat experience while on guard duty.
In his memoirs, Grimminger recalls being told by a Battalion Executive Officer that enemy aircraft had attacked a beach just a few miles from Grimminger’s guard post and was heading in their direction. Grimminger recalls being deployed with five other guards, armed with carbines and semi-automatic pistols.
“I personally remember seeing a mound of dirt, which appeared to be the outline of a helmet. A blade of grass was blown by a little breeze in front of this mound and it appeared to be moving. I lay motionless with my carbine pointed right at the object, safe(ty) off and ready to fire. This experience was breathtaking and only our attention to training and not to be trigger-happy paid off in this instance,” Grimminger wrote.
In his memoirs, Grimminger recalls attacking a heavily fortified Japanese position on an area called “Purple Heart Hill.” Grimminger wrote that American forces tried for two days to capture the hill, but was forced to withdraw. Eventually, a heavy barrage of artillery cleared the way and the soldiers were able to capture the hill.
On the morning of Feb. 7, 1945, Grimminger’s company was part of an attack on Nichols Air Field. Grimminger and his squad were attacking an enemy “pillbox” bunker and came under heavy fire.
“While I was loading my machine gun, I received a burst of machine gun fire from the enemy,” Grimminger wrote in his memoirs. “My face became numb and my upper-right arm was bleeding. My machine gun was completely damaged and knocked out of action.”
Grimminger received first aid and was told to report to the rear of the attack. As he was attempting to get to safety, he watched as the medic who had tended to his wounds was hit by enemy fire.
Grimminger was able to reach the safety of a medical aid station and encountered a friend of his, Harry Walker. The two friends talked about combat and Grimminger was taken to a field hospital.
“I was standing in the chow line the next morning,” Grimminger wrote. “A friend of Harry’s walked up and asked if I heard about Harry. I said no, I just talked to him at the rear aid station last night. He said he (Harry) was killed while being evacuated to the field hospital. I could not believe my buddy and closest friend was dead.”
Grimminger wrote that he stayed in a convalescent hospital on Layte Island for 8-10 weeks. He was then released to rejoin his unit. Shortly after his return, Grimminger was transferred to Company G of the 188th parachute infantry regiment. His new unit was training for an invasion of Kyushu, when they received word Aug. 6, 1945, that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that Japan wanted to surrender.
“I remember very clearly when word came down that the Japanese wanted to surrender.” Grimminger wrote in his memoirs. “I was lying in my bunk and when I heard this, I rolled off the bunk onto the ground and kissed it. I think I was the happiest guy in the world.”
Grimminger was discharged Jan. 6, 1946. He had earned the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the Distinguished Unit Badge, the Philippines Liberation Ribbon with two Bronze Stars, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars and one Bronze Arrowhead, a Presidential Unit Citation, a Ruptured Duck Lapel Pin, the World War II Victory Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Expert Infantry Badge and the Qualified Parachutist Badge.
Grimminger returned to Lewistown and worked for American Viscos Corp., but soon discovered he could make a good living by selling surplus military files. He met his wife, Emily, in 1947 and they were married April 18, 1948.
Grimminger decided that he wanted to quit his job and get into selling military surplus full-time. Grimminger searched the surrounding towns for a location where he would have no competition and established his business in Clearfield in June of 1948.
Grimminger transferred his reserve status to the 776th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in Clearfield, until its deactivation in 1957-58. The battalion was reactivated into the 4th of the 92nd Field Artillery Battalion with headquarters in Clearfield and three firing batteries in Punxsutawney, DuBois and St. Marys. He remained in the reserves until 1982, having been promoted to the rank of Colonel.
While still serving in the military, Grimminger established Bob’s Army & Navy. His son Robert said the business began in a small shop in the East End area of Clearfield. Shortly after, the store was relocated to North Third Street in Clearfield, where it remained until 1976. The store was relocated to its present location at 229 E. Market St., in Clearfield.
“He was very devoted to his family and his business,” Robert said of his father. “He was an avid hunter and some of my most memorable times spent together (with his father) was during hunting season. He didn’t smile a lot because he had so many things on his mind, but once you had the opportunity to really talk with my dad, you would leave with a very favorable impression of him. He also grew up without having the loving guidance of a father. All he knew was work and that’s why he always worked so hard at anything he did.”
After his father’s death, Robert said he heard from many people whose lives had been touched by his father.
Robert said he spoke to a man who had been hitch-hiking his way back to college in Indiana. Robert said the man told him he had been walking in the rain and stopped in at the store to buy a dry shirt. Robert said the man said his father had given him a ride to Grampian and stayed with him until he could find another ride.
Grimminger and his wife were the parents of three children, Elizabeth, who preceded him in death, Patti and Robert. He is also survived by eight grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.
Throughout his life, Grimminger was active in many clubs and organizations within the community.
“We’d go on vacation, but my dad really loved Clearfield,” Robert said. “As long as his two feet were planted on the ground in Clearfield County, he was happy.”