Issaquah resident Nick Grossi was 18 years old when he got the call to serve his country.
It was 1943 and Grossi was a student at O’Dea High School. He was drafted to fight for the U.S. Army in World War II and then shipped off to California for training.
“I was too young to be scared,” the 91-year-old Spiritwood at Pine Lake resident said, “but I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t finish high school.”
He would eventually get that diploma, but not before an 18-month service stint that resulted in a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his bravery during the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
The largest battle the U.S. Army ever fought began in December 1944. All appearances suggested that World War II was coming to a close before the German army launched a counteroffensive attack.
Adolf Hitler’s surprise invasion attempted to split the Allied armies in northwest Europe.
“The Germans had made a breakthrough on the front line, that’s why they call it the Battle of the Bulge,” Grossi said.
Grossi, a member of the 80th Infantry Division, worked in a heavy weapons company. He stood about 1,500 yards behind the front lines and manned the 81mm mortar. Someone closer to the action would wire him information on where to shoot the mortar shells.
He was wounded when his squad took a direct hit from a German shell. As Grossi’s lap was bleeding and wracked with shrapnel, he ventured back to headquarters to alert superiors about the attack. It’s one of the reasons he received a Bronze Star.
“Don’t ask me how I did it, because I was hurt pretty bad,” he said.
That was what Grossi called the “bitter end” of his combat career. He was wounded badly enough that the Army sent him back to a hospital in England.
When he thinks back to that time, Grossi remembers the soldiers who lost their lives, the cold and the snow.
“We lost a lot of people in that,” he said. “It was a real severe battle all the way around. We were fighting in the snow, sleeping in the snow and wondering when this horrible war was going to end.”
It ended in 1945. A rehabbed Grossi was back with his 80th Infantry Division in Luxembourg. They were in a theater watching a Bette Davis movie when the news broke.
“They stopped the movie and said that the Germans had given up. The war was over,” he recalled. “Everybody got up from their chairs and yelled and screamed and we all left the movie.”
When Grossi returned home, O’Dea High School basically handed him his diploma after all he’d been through, he said.
He went on to study business at Seattle University and worked for the Boeing Co. for nearly 40 years before retiring. He raised four boys on Mercer Island with his wife Ginny. The couple moved to Spiritwood at Pine Lake in Issaquah about a year ago and recently celebrated their 55th anniversary.
While his medals are proudly displayed on a room in his apartment, Grossi said he wouldn’t wish his wartime experience on anyone.
“I have always been against wars,” he said. “What we went through was awful, awful, awful. It was terrible.”
Memorial Day is a time to remember those that have put their lives on the line for freedom, he said. He still finds it surreal when strangers come up to him and thank him for his service.
“I always thank them,” he said. “I appreciate that. I didn’t realize that I was making history.”