|Dean Spratlin (back row, fifth from left) and other Finback crew members pose with some of the flyers they rescued. Among them was a young pilot named George Bush (front row, second from left).|
At the 1939 spring parade of Tech's military units on Rose Bowl field, Dean Spratlin, a tall mechanical engineering senior and captain of Co. 1 of Tech's Navy ROTC battalion, marched his unit past the reviewing officers with an understandable sense of pride.
On that bright and cloudless day, it would have been impossible for young Spratlin to imagine that in a few years he would become involved in Iwo Jima- one of the bloodiest battles in one of the world's most terrible conflicts. And more improbable still, that he would play a part in an action that would shape world events far into the future.
Several years after graduation, Spratlin, at age 24, found himself the executive officer of the submarine U.S.S. Finback, headed for a dangerous war patrol in the South Pacific. The Finback's orders were to attack Japanese war ships and shipping in the Iwo Jima area, and to rescue any pilots and crew shot down off-shore:
American forces were bombing the island north of Iwo Jima, and sometime during the day spotter planes located a downed flyer, adrift in a life raft. In bailing out, the young pilot had hit his heat on the tail, cutting his forehead badly. His crew had not been able to get out and were lost with it. To pass the time, this laid-back pilot rested in his yellow raft, shooting at seagulls with his service revolver. As the Finback's superstructure came over the horizon, the downed flyer was hoping it was a friendly sub--but he was not certain.
Hauled aboard, the pilot turned out to be a slender, confident 20-year-old from a prominent New England family, with the imposing name of George Herbert Walker Bush.
Years later at his presidential inauguration, Bush was sure of at least one thing-he wanted every sailor on the Finback crew to attend the ceremony.
After months of searching, 78 of the 84 living crew members were located, and some 45 years after the fact had a grand and glorious reunion with the now-president of the United States.
One of Spratlin's treasured momentous is a thank-you letter Bush sent later in the war. Bush wrote that he had a skivvyshirt and a sock with "SPRAT" stenciled on them, and that he would be returning them soon. The letter concluded, "Best of luck from a goddammed zoomie; signed, George."
Brig. Gen. Kendall J. "Wooch" Fielder, an outstanding football player in Tech's early days under coach John Heisman, went on to an outstanding military career and to play a role in Hawaii's statehood. Fielder, a native of Cedartown, Gal, graduated from Georgia Tech in 1916 with a degree in textile engineering.
Upon graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the regular Army. He served in Hawaii and the Pacific during World War II, and at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was head of G-2 intelligence operations for the Army in the Pacific.
Soon after the U.S. entered the war, Fielder flew to Washington, D.C., and persuaded Gen. George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff, to authorize formation of a fighting unit consisting entirely of Japanese-Americans--the 442nd Regiment.
According to an editorial in the Honolulu, Hawaii, Star Bulletin at the time of Fielder's death, "These men became the most decorated American units of World War II...They knocked down the racial barrier permanently, and opened the door for Hawaii's becoming 50th state of the nation. Fielder was called the 'Father of the 442nd.' "
Fielder also testified before Congress in favor of Hawaii's statehood, and after his retirement from the Army in 1553 with the rank of brigadier general, he continued an active community and business life in Hawaii.
Not only was Fielder a credit to his school and nation, but also an inspirational leader in his beloved 50th state, Hawaii.
He died in 1981 at the age of 87.
After a brief four-month training period, Lt. Craig L. Grosenheider, a Bradley platoon leader found himself and his 31-man team racing across the Iraqi desert. Their mission was to use the Bradley armor to clear a path through mine fields and barbed wire, while the two infantry squads neutralized enemy troops in the adjoining trenches and bunkers.
Attached to one of the lead battalions of the Army's 1st division, VII Corps, Grosenheider and his men were in the forefront of the Desert Storm battle to liberate Kuwait.
Several years before, as a 17-year-old student from a small high school in central Colorado, Grosenheider had decided to enlist as a private in the Army. Halfway through his senior year, he was surprised and pleased to learn that he had been awarded a four-year ROTC college scholarship.
Originally, Grosenheider was interested in the Navy, and because Georgia Tech had one of the largest and most distinguished NROTC units in the nation, he decided to apply there.
After receiving an ROTC offer from Tech and visiting Atlanta, where he heard "seductive tales Georgia nights, and even warmer Southern women," he decided on Tech, though he later changed his preference from the Navy to the Army.
Grosenheider entered Tech in the fall of 1985, and after several close calls with calculus, and thinking it would take "forever" to graduate, he finished in 1989 with a degree in mechanical engineering, "all in one piece, scarred, but smarter!"
Grosenheider arrived at Fort Riley, Kan., in September 1990, and by January 1991, he and his platoon were deployed to Operation Desert Shield.
Grosenheider and his men arrived at the port of Dahran, Saudi Arabia, they spent many hours becoming acquainted with chemical-warfare protective clothing. Riding a bus one night, Grosenheider and his platoon heard the grim news on the radio that Desert Shield had blown up into the devastating wind of Desert Storm.
One of Grosenheider's first missions was to clear a small village on the Kuwait-Iraq border. Grosenhieder and his men took hostile fire from some reinforced bunkers, but after several resourceful maneuvers and a few well-placed grenades, the problem was solved. He was elated when the town was secured without his team receiving casualities, and was further pleased to take eight Iraqi prisoners.
Later, his platoon captured 100 prisoners of war without a single casualty. He said, "My one, objective for the deployment was to return with everyone. I accomplished this goal, much to my relief."
For Grosenheider, "Georgia Tech has been a central part of my adult life. The things I accomplished at Tech still benefit me every day. My time there taught me a great deal about self-discipline, critical analysis, logical thought and, of course, engineering. It also taught me how to handle failure and how to appreciate hard-earned triumph and success. I can't imagine a better place to get an education."
Perhaps Grosenheider summed it up for many Yellow Jackets through the years when he said, "It was a tremendous honor to have been able to serve my country in time of war. I only hope others will benefit from my experience."
Joe Byrd graduated from Tech in 1938 with a degree in general engineering. He is a retired lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Byrd is best known as the inventor of the Mark II oilfield pumping machine, which has become the industry standard.