By Paul Wood
RANTOUL — Fireman First Class Cleo Grovier was on a landing craft headed to invade Japan when he learned two atom bombs had been dropped.
Grovier, 91, heard the news about the bombs at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 14, over the public address system, he recalled vividly.
“Everybody went ‘whoopee,’” he said.
Imperial Japan surrendered the next day.
It had been a long journey for Grovier.
Born in Indiana, his family moved to Rantoul when he was 14. He left high school early, working several jobs, including construction.
Grovier enlisted in the Navy as soon as he was allowed, eventually serving four years. He would come back to Rantoul with wife Vera by his side.
He finished basic in 1944, when the war in the Pacific was near its peak, and went to Norfolk, Va., for amphibious training.
Eventually, he was assigned to an LST. His favorite joke from the time: LST didn’t stand for “Landing Ship, Tank.” It was long, slow target.
In 1945, he was on an LST carrying 300 troops. It crossed the oceans, went through the Panama Canal and conducted training and services in Hawaii.
He worked in the engine room, the novice, where engineers were called firemen, keeping the engines going. That didn’t mean firefighter — that would come later.
At one point, the ship passed through a hurricane that was a ship-killer — and found safety in the eye, he said.
“We bobbled like a cork,” he said.
Grovier recalled “loading up at Pearl.” His ship ferried troops and ammunition to Okinawa, the deadliest battle to capture a Japanese island. Tokyo would be coming up.
When the occupation of Japan began, his ship was taking troops to Sasebo, a city near Nagasaki.
His was the first ship to enter Sasebo harbor.
Half of the troops were put ashore there; the rest moved closer to Nagasaki, where the second atom bomb was dropped.
When he saw the armaments lined up there, Grovier realized an amphibious attack would have been bloody.
“They would have blown us out of the water,” Grovier said.
While serving on guard duty, Grovier was approached by a little boy.
“I said, ‘Go back,’” Grovier recalled.
The little boy drew a circle in the sand.
“He said ‘my family’ in broken English,” the veteran said.
An X drawn through it signified that his family’s house had been destroyed. He threw the sand into the air.
“A B-29 blew his home up,” Grovier said.
The aftermath had Grovier’s ship moving Japanese people, who had served in slave labor, back on a loop of the islands that had been their homes.
It would be 1948 before he was able to come home, after serving in the Philippines.
Home in Rantoul, he drove a cab and worked in the motor pool at Chanute Air Force Base, but was laid off.
Eventually, he was able to get a job in the Chanute fire department, where he thrived. The Groviers supported four children with that job, three of whom went to college, he said proudly.
He retired in 1977, but couldn’t stop working, taking a job supervising maintenance workers for Champaign County.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.