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Undelivered letter reopens old wounds



Published: Mon, May 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Thomas Grantonic was 20 when he was killed in France, in 1945, during World War II.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

BOARDMAN -- The 3-cent stamp, featuring an eagle encircled with stars, reads Win the War.

The postmark, dated Feb. 20, 1945, is from Mingo Junction, Ohio.

And the red handwriting, marking the envelope deceased, tells of a soldier who never made it home.

Thomas Grantonic never received the letter. The 20-year-old Army soldier died nine days after it was mailed.

It was returned unopened to his mother and stayed that way until her sons found it among her belongings after her death.

The return address let Thomas' brothers know that the letter was written by "Johnnie Grantonic," who was 16 when he sent the letter to his brother, stationed in France during World War II.

"I've missed him all the time," said John Grantonic, now 72, of Boardman Township.

Grantonic said his brothers Eddie and Georgie brought the letter to his home in October 2000 and watched as he opened the nearly 56-year-old letter.

"If you don't think that was an emotional moment," Grantonic said. "You talk about the chills, the emotions."

The letter tells an older brother overseas about daily life in Mingo Junction, a town described by Grantonic as "three hills, two valleys and one huge steel mill."

Two brothers in war

"Dear Tommy," the letter begins, "I haven't anything to do so I've just decided to write to you. The last letter I wrote it went to Georgie so this one goes to you because I'm taking turns writing to both of you."

Georgie also was serving in the war, stationed in Okinawa, Japan. The two brothers had enlisted together, leaving what Grantonic remembers as "a very empty house." A front window displayed two blue stars in their absence.

The letter tells of the young Johnnie's struggles with algebra ("boy it's really crumby") and the flying 9-inch airplane he received from the "Jack Armstrong" radio show for "one box top and a nickle."

"I got two of them, a British Fulmar and a German Heinkle fighter," the letter says. "The Heinkles just about all shot up but the Fulmar really flies."

The letter also tells of Georgie's sending $10 to each of his younger siblings at home. The young Johnnie writes that he will put his $10 in the bank and that Georgie wants Mary Agnes, their sister, to use hers for clothes for school because she was set to start kindergarten that fall.

It refers to foreign money mailed home by Tommy. ("Boy were we surprised to see all the different kinds of it.")

The letter is signed "Your brother Johnnie" and ends with a P.S.: "I made a kite and boy does it fly nice (when there's wind.)"

Dreaded news

Grantonic remembers the day the telegram came to alert the family that Tommy had died.

"I was coming home from school, walking up the top of the hill and I saw a taxi in front of the house. My grandmother ... told me that Tommy was killed. It was just like a numbness. I went in the house and my mom was crying like crazy. I was in shock."

Grantonic gazed into the distance, as if looking into the past.

"I can still see that taxi," he said. "I can still see my grandmother standing by the porch."

The letter has brought back some memories and also linked Grantonic with a man who served in the same regiment and company as Tommy. Its envelope marked deceased also listed the name of a Capt. L. E. Lenig. Using the Internet, Grantonic tracked down Lenig in Dallas.

The former Army captain told him he did not recall Tommy, but remembered serving in the company in Colmar, France. He described the area as a "hell hole," Grantonic said. He told Grantonic there were shells and bullets and referred to it as a "tough part of the war in France."

It was in Colmar that Tommy died March 2, 1945. Grantonic said he is not sure how his brother died, but the last letter from him told of his firing mortars with the Germans volleying them back.

Grantonic described his brother, an altar boy at St. Agnes Church in Mingo Junction, as "very mild-mannered, very quiet, he got along with everybody."

Grantonic said he'll visit his brother's grave in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Steubenville in honor of Memorial Day today.

"We were a very close family," he said. "And when they went, who would think something would happen to them?"

viviano@vindy.com




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